Cubs and Fire in talks to bring international soccer friendly to Wrigley Field

After seeing hockey fans fill an icy Wrigley Field to watch the Blackhawks and Red Wings on New Year’s Day 2009 and hearing the buzz surrounding November’s Illinois-Northwestern football game at the ballpark, it appears the Fire want “next.”

According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the Fire and Cubs are kicking around the possibility of having Chicago’s MLS club play Mexico’s Club America in a friendly at the Friendly Confines.

A Cubs spokesperson confirmed the teams have been in talks but said in an e-mail that “there is nothing confirmed for 2010 or beyond.

“That said, we have looked into hosting a soccer game at Wrigley Field over the past two seasons and can contemplate seeing soccer at Wrigley in the future.”

The exhibition would be the first soccer game at Wrigley since the Chicago Sting of the defunct North American Soccer League stopped playing there in 1984.

In an interview with the Tribune in April, Fire president Dave Greeley talked about the possibility of the Fire playing at Wrigley Field. A Fire spokesperson said the club had no comment.

The Fire has played its home games at Toyota Park in Bridgeview since 2006 after spending its first eight seasons at Soldier Field and Benedetti–Wehrli Stadium (then called Cardinal Stadium) in Naperville. In four home games this season, the Fire have averaged 14,333 fans, in the bottom-half among Major League Soccer’s 17 teams.

America is among Mexico’s most popular clubs and has a strong following in the Chicago area. The Fire signed a multiyear marketing partnership with America in April 2009, including two exhibition games last season.

“It would be an amazing thing for all Chicago fans,” Fire forward and Arlington Heights native Brian McBride said of the possibility of playing at Wrigley. “It’s a special place. I’ve been to different stadiums around the world, but just to walk on that field is pretty amazing. … It would be a blast.”

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano is one of the few who kick a soccer ball around Wrigley’s grass. The Venezuela native and Real Madrid fan keeps a ball in his locker and is known to bring it onto the field from time to time. He hasn’t watched the Fire play at Toyota Park, but he did see them at Soldier Field and would be interested in watching them at Wrigley.

“Why not?” Zambrano said. “You can play anything in this ball park. If you can play hockey here, you can play anything.”

It wouldn’t be the first time an MLS team played on a baseball field. The Kansas City Wizards play their home games at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of the Northern League’s Kansas City T-Bones. The Wizards’ field is on the small side (110 yards long, 70 yards wide, the MLS minimum), much like a Wrigley soccer field would be. Ideally, fields would be 120 x 75.

“It takes at least 2-3 days to (convert),” Dave Borchardt, a Wizards spokesperson, said by e-mail. “The areas that take the most time to convert are the base areas, which have sod placed over them for (soccer) games … and the grounds crew also has to change the mowing pattern from what it normally is for the baseball games.”

Considering the time it took to arrange the Illinois-Northwestern game, it could be a while before we see any Fire players celebrating a goal in front of the ivy.

“I like to go to Chicago Fire games,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I have fun. I plan to go back this summer.”

A Fire game at Wrigley?

“I no go to Wrigley Field for nothing,” Guillen said. “The only reason I go to Wrigley Field is because I have to.”

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