SBJ/February 1 - 7, 1999/No Topic Name

With MLS eyeing Soldier Field, city losing patience with Bears

Major League Soccer is angling to land Chicago's Soldier Field as the site for the league's championship game next year in a move that presents yet another problem for beleaguered Chicago Bears officials.

Major League Soccer officials asked the Chicago Park District, which runs Soldier Field, for four Sunday dates in November 2000 to host the MLS Cup. Chicago Park District's lease with the Bears expires at the end of this year.

The city and the Bears remain far apart in renewed lease negotiations, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is growing impatient with team owner Michael McCaskey, who has yet to respond to a new lease offered by the city in November. As city officials wait for a counteroffer, Daley is mulling other uses for the stadium, including the MLS Cup.

"If the Bears don't want to play in Soldier Field, then we want to use Soldier Field to make money," said John Camper, a Daley spokesman. "Everyone knows that the lease will expire, and there's some annoyance from the mayor as the deadline approaches."

MLS Commissioner Doug Logan said he'd like to put the league's showcase game in Soldier Field to take advantage of the league's large fan base in the city. "Chicago is a wonderful soccer market due to the city's ethnic diversity, and we are immersed in active discussions with the mayor's office and the Chicago Park District," Logan said. "We've respectfully asked for the dates, and we love Soldier Field as a venue."

Bears officials wouldn't comment, but if the MLS Cup comes to Chicago, it could present major scheduling problems for the football team, weaken any leverage for a new Soldier Field lease and add to the franchise's growing reputation for bungling key moves.

Last week, the Bears embarrassed themselves by announcing the hiring of Dave McGinnis as head coach before reaching a deal with him. But McGinnis and the Bears couldn't reach an agreement, leaving the team without a head coach to present at a press conference previously arranged to introduce McGinnis. A day later, the Bears hastily hired former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Dick Jauron as head coach.

That public relations nightmare comes not long after the Bears announced that they were abandoning the effort to build a stadium in suburban Chicago because of the lack of community support.

McCaskey said in a statement that he will now focus on staying in Chicago, but the team may be stuck at Soldier Field for a while.

"The mayor has said that before we start talking about a new stadium, he wants a Soldier Field lease signed," Camper said. "He has made it clear that he wants no public money for a new stadium."

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