Attending your first Chicago Fire match is the type of experience you don’t forget very quickly. That will certainly be the case for Alex Smith, a Michigan native and friend of mine, who attended his first ever Fire match on Saturday in the Fire’s 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park. Alex was in for a real treat that day too as the men in red put forth one of their best performances of the season to register back-to-back home wins for the first time this season. As always, Section 8 was also in full voice all night long to ensure his first experience at Toyota Park was one to remember. I caught up with Alex to talk to him about his thoughts on attending his first Chicago Fire match.
Alex, give a quick introduction about yourself and tell us what drew you to your first Major League Soccer match?
I grew up in an area where the most popular “sports” were probably hunting and fishing. My high school didn’t have a soccer team until about 8 years ago, so I did not have a great deal of exposure to the sport growing up. I am an avid fan of all sports, and I learned a lot about soccer over the past couple years, but I had not been to a professional soccer match before.
What were your expectations prior to attending the match?
Prior to the match, I was just generally excited about the match because it was going to be a new experience for me. I hoped to see some fierce competition, speedy footwork, and hopefully a few goals in the match. I told a co-worker last Friday that I was going to see the Chicago Fire that weekend, and he instructed me not to get punched. I had a good, albeit nervous, laugh about that. I knew soccer fans could get rowdy, but I doubt that same co-worker would make the same comment after attending a game.
How would you describe the pre-game festivities surrounding Toyota Park compared to other sporting events you’ve been to?
That was the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent outside a stadium waiting for gates to open before a sporting event. What made it worth it was the fact that there were so many other people doing the same thing. There were bands playing, tailgate games going on all around, and people kicking balls in whatever open areas they could find – and despite all that activity and the size of the crowd prior to the match, getting out of the parking lot after the game wasn’t that tough.
What did you think of the atmosphere inside the stadium?
There were a few empty seats along the sidelines on either side of Toyota Park, but that’s probably because people flocked to section 8 to be a part of that section. I could tell that the real fans made their way to that section to watch the game – the atmosphere there is hard to beat.
You’re a big hockey and baseball fan. Can you compare the atmosphere inside Toyota Park to any other sporting events you’ve attended before? Does Chicago’s Section 8 fan base draw similarities to any other fan bases in other leagues?
The closest comparison I can make to section 8 would be at a college football or basketball game – specifically the Izzone at Michigan State basketball games. Most other stadiums are too large to build a great atmosphere because fans are so spread out. Getting everyone involved in the cheering is key. Section 8 was ramped up that evening, and they kept it up the whole game. If you see fans standing for an entire game, it is usually a good indicator of a solid fan base.
Section 8 erupted during both of Chicago’s 2 tallies during the match. The only similarity I can draw between that excitement and any other event I’ve gone to would be a game winning goal at a pro Hockey game in overtime. Both of Chicago’s goals garnered the same kind of “sudden-death/we just won” kind of response.
Were you able to learn a few of the songs sung by Section 8?
I caught on to almost all of the songs in section 8. The chanting and singing was one of my favorite facets of the fan experience. Everyone was singing and having a great time. I’m sure next time I go back, the songs will seem very familiar.
The Fire obviously haven’t been very prolific this season, were you surprised to see them play so well against Colorado?
I was very surprised. I did my research before the match, and I honestly expected to see Colorado pull off a road win. I wouldn’t have been surprised by a draw either, as Chicago has 15 this season (the most in the league). Fortunately, I got to see the team play very well and pull off an impressive win.
And lastly, would you come back for another Chicago Fire match at Toyota Park?
Absolutely – and I would like to go back soon.