Chicago Fire put on a show vs. Inter Miami: "It was a perfect night"


Chicago Fire FC drew a record crowd of 62,124 to Soldier Field on Wednesday evening, many of them hoping to see Inter Miami CF superstar Lionel Messi in the flesh.

Yet the Argentine living legend wasn’t part of the matchday squad as he continues to recover from the ill effects of scar tissue related to an old muscle injury. The Matchday 36 clash, with huge Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs implications in the Eastern Conference, was missing its main attraction.

Even without Messi, those in the Windy City were treated to a show. The hosts ran riot in a 4-1 victory over the Herons, paced by two goals apiece from playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri and second-half substitute Maren Haile-Selassie. It’s a night those in attendance, and others watching around the world via MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, won’t soon forget.

“It's beautiful to see Solider Field fully packed for a soccer game,” Shaqiri, the Fire’s club-record signing and Swiss No. 10, told MLS Season Pass sideline reporter Katie Witham postgame. “I hope they're going to come more and more because we showed today how good we are and that the team spirit is here.

“We needed that win for the next game and to help our spot in the playoffs. Every game now is a final and the guys, I'm really proud of what they put in today. We suffered of course in this game. We saw the quality of Inter Miami, but we knew also that they had some problems with counter-attacks and in the end, we scored four goals. It was a perfect night for us.”

The result vaults Chicago to eighth place in the East with two games remaining, two points (40 points; 10W-12L-10D) above the playoff line. With back-to-back wins following a seven-game slide, the Fire are full of belief their five-year postseason absence will end later this month.

“The only thing that I'm really feeling is that I'm proud of the guys because they went and showed the level that we can play,” manager Frank Klopas said. “Now we have to be more consistent and maintain that kind of level almost every game. I think that's the important thing. Everything is in our hands. We talked about being a team that can compete in the playoffs and I think we took a huge step tonight in doing that.”

Would things have been different with Messi, or other missing stars like Jordi Alba and Leo Campana, on the field for the Herons? Klopas entertained that very question in his press conference.

“It would be 5-1 for us. I have to be confident,” the Greek-American coach quipped. “ … Obviously Messi is a special player, he can change the game in an instant. But I can't worry about that, if Messi's here. If you're telling me what the outcome would be, Fire would win. But I'm a confident person, I believe in my team. There's no other way.”

Chicago will need that sort of belief in their final push, starting with Saturday’s home match against 13th-place Charlotte FC. They’ll close with a Decision Day test (Oct. 21) at New York City FC, two matches against teams currently below the playoff line that will determine if the Fire continue a streak of underperformance or come good on their potential.

“We have to be a team that's gonna be in the playoffs, not just once every six or seven, eight years,” said Klopas. “This city is still built on winning and the fans want to see winners. … That's how you get the fans. If we're not, then we shouldn't expect more.”

If the club keeps on this path, they’re bound to capitalize on the city’s soccer fervor – not just for the chance to potentially see Messi.

"When you live in Chicago or in the Chicago area, and you are interested in soccer, then you should support your home club," said captain Rafael Czichos. "I don’t think that all of the people wearing pink were from Miami today, so I hope that they’ll be there on Saturday or next season with a different color.”

Added homegrown goalkeeper Chris Brady: "We knew going into this we'd have a lot of fans come in to support us, but we also had a lot of fans come in to support Messi and maybe Inter Miami. Hopefully after today's performance, a lot of those people wear Fire jerseys."