Why Chicago?

By Carolyn Fishman

Local Soccer and the Windy City

Chicago can trace its soccer roots back to the late 1800s when European immigrants brought the game to the Midwest and made it popular. 1883 is the year of the first official game held in Chicago; it was played between the Original Wanderers and the Pullman Car Works (Logan). Not long after, the Association Football League was founded in 1904, a league of originally six local teams with a seventh joining eventually (Litterer). Having a league meant that when young European squads traveled to the United States, they wanted to come play in Chicago. With teams from England coming on three separate occasions before the end of the decade, support for the game of soccer grew. Additionally, in 1909 a trophy was donated by Peter J Peel, a man who would go on to become president of both the Illinois State Soccer Association and the United States Football Association. The trophy, also known as the Peel Cup was awarded to state champions of Illinois and was one of the oldest annually awarded soccer trophies until 1970 when it was retired (“Chicago Soccer History.”).

Throughout the 1910s and 20s more leagues were created, and in 1938 two of them joined together to form the National Soccer League (NSL) of Chicago, which still exists today. Its name is rather misleading, however, because it is a local league in Chicago as opposed to a league composed of teams from across the nation (“About Us.”). As time passed, Chicago continued to be well represented at the national level. In the 1960s there were two major rival leagues, and Chicago fans had a solid team to support in either league: in the United Soccer Association (USA) they had the Chicago Spurs, and in the National Professional Soccer League they had the Chicago Mustangs (“Chicago Soccer History.”). The two leagues ended up merging in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League (NASL) (Litterer). In 1975, the fans had the Chicago Sting as their lone team in the NASL, but it fostered a strong sense of soccer identity in Chicagoans by playing in local historic venues such as Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, and Comiskey Park (now US Cellular Field).  

Toyota Park – home of the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Red Stars. Image retrieved from Wikimedia.

Today the most notable local team is the Chicago Fire, who play in the MLS (Major League Soccer). 1998 was the first year the team played in the league, however the announcement for a professional team and its name in Chicago came on the 126th anniversary of the great Chicago Fire, a deadly event that every Chicagoan knows the story of (http://www.history.com/topics/great-chicago-fire). The original roster targeted both Polish and Hispanic populations of Chicago (both of which are large), and it also included a former Sting player (“History.”). In their first season, the Fire won the MLS cup, and have since won it 3 more times (“Chicago Fire Soccer Club.”). Over the past four years, attendance has averaged just under 16,000 fans for regular season games (“All-Time Attendance.”).

On the women’s side there is much less information, however today there is currently a professional women’s team: the Chicago Red Stars, and they currently play in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League). Again, the name is significant to the city as it is red stars that are found on Chicago’s flag. Professional women’s soccer has been rocky since a league was first created in 2007, so there is no solid history. However, it speaks volumes that Chicago has a team. Just last year the team finished second in the NWSL, and two years in a row the team has had members win the prestigious NWSL Rookie of the Year award (“Chicago Red Stars History.”). The team is expected to continue its success.


Soldier Field set up for soccer. Image retrieved from Wikimedia.


International Soccer and The Windy City

In 1978, the Chicago Sting were selected to go play in an exhibition game in Havana, Cuba, which was the first time in nearly 20 years that a US sports team visited Cuba. While this match didn’t occur in Chicago, it is notable because it was an American team visiting Cuban soil, giving a soccer team from Chicago a national spotlight.

From an international perspective, Chicago has played host to foreign teams multiple times. From a 1973 visit by the Polish team to Soldier Field, to Chicago being one of the host cities for five games in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (http://homepages.sover.net/~spectrum/chicago.html). In particular, Soldier Field hosted the opening match for this World Cup, which was one that shattered all previous attendance records by more than 1 million when over 3.5 million fans attended games (“U.S. Soccer Timeline.”). In 1999 Chicago also hosted four more international games for the Women’s World Cup. In total, Chicago has played host to 26 US Men’s and Women’s National Team matches (“Chicago Soccer History.”).


1994 World Cup

As mentioned above, Chicago hosted the opening match of the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Not only did that entail a game between Germany and Bolivia, but also it meant holding the opening ceremony. In the short clip below you can see Oprah Winfrey serving as the master of ceremony, as well as a musical performance where the video spans the crowd (Vlad). The first three minutes and fifteen seconds allow you to see what fans looked like, dressed like, etc. at the time. The rest of the video is a bird’s eye view of the stadium, with the quality of a camera from 1994, and some Spanish commentators.


Copa America and the Windy City

Chicago was a natural choice for a host city for the 2016 Copa America. The city has a rich history with soccer, from its teams and fans to the international games it has played host to; the city of Chicago was ready to host.

Reasons Chicago makes sense to host:

  • U.S. Soccer Federation Headquarters are located in Chicago
  • Soldier Field, while a ‘small’ venue, still fits 61,500 fans. It was recently renovated and boasts having a grass field, which has become a big deal as of late (Rosenblatt)
  • Soldier Field is also located in the heart of the city, and on the lakefront, making it super accessible for public transportation.
    • Side note: Both the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Red Stars play in Toyota Park, a stadium that holds only 20,000 fans for sporting events (“Fun Within Reach.”) a number far too small to even be considered as a host stadium despite it being the local soccer stadium. This is clear from the photos above: one shows Toyota Park and the other shows Soldier Field.
  • It has hosted international friendlies, World Cup Qualifiers, Gold Cup matches, and even the opening match of the 1994 FIFA World Cup
  • Represents the Midwest to give the host cities a diversity of location (Das), but it is still urban and can handle tourists and traveling influxes
  • Is a top 25 performing city in terms of soccer success in the US (Bernardo)


Back to list of host cities

How to cite this article: 

“Why Chicago?”, Written by Carolyn Fishman (2016). Copa America Centenario 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/copa-america-centenario-2016-guide/copa-america-centenario-2016-host-cities/why-chicago/ (accessed on (date)).

Works Cited:

  1. “About Us.” National Soccer League of Chicago. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nslchicago.org/about-us/>.
  2. “All-Time Attendance.” Chicago Fire. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2016. <http://www.chicago-fire.com/media/records/attendance>.
  3. Bernardo, Richie. “2015’s Best & Worst Cities for Soccer Fans.” WalletHub. Evolution Finance, Inc. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-cities-for-soccer-fans/14207/>.
  4. “Chicago Fire Soccer Club.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Fire_Soccer_Club>.
  5. “Chicago Red Stars History.” Chicago Red Stars. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.<http://chicagoredstars.com/history/>.
  6. “Chicago Soccer History.” Chicago NASL. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.<http://www.chicagonasl.com/chicago-soccer-history/>.
  7. Das, Andrew. “10 American Cities Chosen for Copa América Next Summer.” The NewYork Times. The New York Times, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.<http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/20/sports/soccer/10-american-cities-chosen-for-copa-america-next-summer.html?_r=1>.
  8. “Fun Within Reach.” TOYOTA PARK. Web. 17 Apr. 2016. <http://www.toyotapark.com/about/>.
  9. “History.” Chicago Fire. Major League Soccer, 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2016. <http://www.chicago-fire.com/club/history>.
  10. Litterer, David. “Chicago’s Soccer History.” Chicago’s Soccer History. 25 May 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://homepages.sover.net/~spectrum/chicago.html>.
  11. Logan, Gabe. “Soccer.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1157.html>.
  12. Vlad, Cosmin. “17 Jun 1994 – FIFA World Cup – USA ’94 (Opening Ceremony 6) – Chicago.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 July 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kjn7gS3xwk>.
  13. Rosenblatt, Ryan. “Which Cities and Stadiums Could Host Copa America 2016?” SBNation.com. Vox Media Inc., 09 Jan. 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.<http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2015/1/9/7517491/copa-america-2016-centenario-host-usa-cities-stadiums>.
  14. “U.S. Soccer Timeline.” U.S. Soccer. U.S. Soccer, 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.<http://www.ussoccer.com/about/history/timeline>.