By Amanda Beemer
Rather than the originally scheduled home match between Chicago and the Colorado Rapids, this weekend Fire fans were treated to a seemingly last minute two-night friendly tournament featuring clubs from three of Chicago’s 28 sister cities. This past Wednesday the Fire played Paris Saint-Germain (0-1), and immediately following Red Star Belgrade took on Legia Warsaw (1-0). On Saturday, the Fire played Legia in a consolation match prior to the championship contest between Paris Saint-Germain and Red Star Belgrade.
The event was Chicago’s first-annual Sister Cities International Cup, and marked the fifth decade of the Sister Cities initiative which was created by President Eisenhower in an attempt to celebrate and exemplify the ethnic diversity found within Chicago. In accordance with his career-long desire to turn Chicago into a World-Class city, Mayor Daley has been incredibly supportive of the program, and even went so far this year as to sign a Proclamation declaring May 19 – 22, 2010 Chicago Sister Cities International Cup Days. The proclamation “urges all citizens to celebrate the close ties of friendship and exchange that Chicago shares with Warsaw, Paris, and Belgrade.”
But, as with most of Daley’s cosmopolitan initiatives (not counting the Olympics), Chicagoans were largely apathetic toward the historic Sister Cities anniversary and the international friendlies commemorating it. The turnout at Wednesday’s match was pretty meager save for the Belgrade support section of Toyota Park; Saturday’s numbers were a bit better. Similarly, the Fire’s game play, though inconsequential, was still disappointing. They pretty much flat-lined against PSG (rookie keeper Sean Johnson started in place of the beleaguered Andrew Dykstra, and did fairly well), and were punished by Legia in the second half of the consolation match. PSG fell to Belgrade in the championship match via penalty kicks after scoring the equalizer in the 90th minute.
Knowing full-well that despite Fire’s desperate need for any kind of win they’d most likely be unable to pull it off, I spent more time observing the fan turnout than actual game play. On Wednesday Section 8 looked like a relative ghost town. This was likely due to the fact that the tournament was only announced a couple weeks ago, as well as the fact that given the Fire’s current MLS status, the tournament was likely perceived by most as an invitation to watch our boys become Europe’s punching bag for two nights. Although we all know this is even more reason to show up in solidarity, Fire fans seem to not want to witness any more punishment if they don’t have to (conveniently, none of the tournament was televised – or at least it wasn’t advertised).
Conversely, Red Star Belgrade’s support section was a sea of red and white stripes and white balloons both nights, and looked bloody organized as they cheered in unison without (gasp!) any capo. They also managed to set off ten or so smoke bombs in the first ten minutes of play, two of which ended up on the pitch. Their vehemence was enough to remind me that American support of footie pretty much pales in comparison to anything Europe has to offer.
Support for Paris was more disparate, which isn’t surprising in light of the fact that there is no such thing as a French part of Chicago – Polish of course, Serbian sure, but Parisian? not so much. Polish support was sparse on Wednesday night, but it seemed more came out for Saturday’s consolation match (insert Polish-people-are-space-cadets joke here, if you must). Regardless, seeing a bunch of surly Poles reminded me of the ultras of yore that initiated Section 8 back at Soldier Field.
At least Sister Cities was a success where it really counts, meaning there were no injuries to “star” players, nor any riots between rival ex-pats. The Fire will return to the MLS with a match against Brimstone Cup rivals FC Dallas at home this upcoming Thursday, then will play AC Milan in their other international friendly the following Sunday. I won’t say what’s going to happen, but lord knows I’m thinking it, and cringing. Hopefully other Fire supporters are feeling up a bit more optimistic, and will actually show up accordingly.
Amanda is a long-time Chicago resident and avid Chicago Fire fan, and has been following MLS for the better part of a decade. Although she makes an awesome spectator, she is a god-awful player. She can be reached at email@example.com