The Chicago Fire went from marquee MLS club to league laughingstock in the dozen years after Andrew Hauptman bought the team in 2007.
But on Friday, Hauptman finally gave long-suffering Fire fans a reason to rejoice with the announcement that his controlling stake in team had been sold, effective immediately, to Joe Mansueto, the founder of a leading Chicago-based investment research firm.
Changes had been afoot in the Windy City for some time. Earlier this year, the Fire announced that it would leave its current soccer stadium in suburban Bridgeview, Illinois, paving the way for a 2020 return to Soldier Field — where it spent most of its first six seasons — in the heart of America’s third-largest metropolis.
“The timing of this transaction couldn’t be better as we return the world’s game to the city I love,” Mansueto said in a statement.
The Fire debuted as an expansion team in 1998 and won MLS Cup in their maiden season under current LAFC coach Bob Bradley. Chicago made it back to the final twice in the next five years and took home the Supporters Shield in 2003. The Fire also won three U.S. Open Cups between 2000 and 2006.
But things started to change after the Fire moved out of the city that year. Initially, the team did well in Bridgeview, mainly because of the arrival of Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who filled seats and goals and led the club to three consecutive conference finals appearances before heading back home after the 2009 season.
The Fire have made it back to the playoffs just twice since, losing in the knockout round both times. Meantime, attendance has plummeted; Chicago is averaging just 11,926 fans this season, last (by far) among MLS’s 24 clubs.
This season, the team sits 10th in the East, five points out of the final playoff spot with four matches left to play.