Fire know winning the best way to lure back fans from record crowd

There was one thing Fire captain Rafael Czichos didn’t love about the record crowd of 62,124 on Wednesday night

“Too many pink jerseys, actually,” Czichos said.

Pink is the color of Inter Miami and now Lionel Messi, the soccer legend who was the event’s biggest draw but didn’t play due to injury. Hopefully for Czichos, they converted some of the pink-clad customers into Fire fans who will don the home team’s colors at future games.

“When you live in Chicago or in the Chicago area, and you are interested in soccer then you should support your home club,” Czichos said. “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 [against Charlotte FC] or next season with a different color.”

As Czichos and everybody else with the Fire knows, there hasn’t been much reason for casual fans to jump on the team’s bandwagon. They haven’t reached the playoffs since 2017, and haven’t advanced since 2009. Over that time, the Fire have drifted from the city’s sports consciousness. 

Getting back to the playoffs this year – and the chances for that look good with two games left – would be a good step forward for the Fire. Entering Saturday’s match against Charlotte, the Fire (10-12-10, 40 points) sit eighth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of ninth-place CF Montreal and New York City FC in 10th. 

But to truly build off Wednesday and turn many of the night’s customers into fans, postseason bids cannot be a rare occurrence. 

“How do you follow up? You have to win,” coach Frank Klopas said. “You have to continue to win. We have to be a team that’s going to be in the playoffs, not just once every six or seven, eight years. This city is built on winning and the fans want to see winners. I think it’s important that we’re a team that, yeah, our goal should be the playoffs because that gives you an opportunity to win championships. And we need to be a team that’s consistently there every year – and that’s how you get the fans.”

The Fire fans that have stuck around over the past decade have had their loyalty tested with both on-field struggles and off-field hiccups. A few supporters behind the south goal used the occasion Wednesday to voice their frustration with the team, displaying a banner that read “FIX IT, JOE.” imploring owner Joe Mansueto to improve the product.

On Wednesday, the product looked pretty good as the Fire players faced pressure on two fronts: to win and boost their playoff chances, and to play well enough to maybe create new fans

Make no mistake, the Fire were aware of the second challenge.

“There’s a lot of fans here that we wanted to win over tonight and we wanted to do that with a complete performance and leave it all out there and make the city proud,” defender Wyatt Omsberg said. “Whether you’re our fans or whether you’re a Messi fan coming to watch Miami play [or] whatever it is, we wanted to leave a good mark on this game. I feel like we put in a complete performance. Hopefully we made the fans proud and earned some new fans tonight.”

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