"The Feilhaber game, correct?"
"Yep, that was the Feilhaber goal. An amazing, amazing experience."
Jonathan Bornstein recalls the memory of his lone playing appearance at Chicago's Soldier Field.
It's a fond one, to say the least.
In front of 60,000 fans, the then 22-year-old Bornstein started and played 90 minutes in the 2007 Gold Cup final -- a 2-1 victory for the U.S. Men's National Team over rival Mexico.
"The atmosphere was amazing," he said. "The experience was great. Hopefully we can replicate that here. I think everyone in the Club and hopefully the fans and everyone in the city is excited for the Fire to return to Soldier Field."
Bornstein's first offseason in Chicago is a transformative one for the Fire. A veteran of the club and international game, the defender's approach to his preparation for the 2020 season opener on March 21 is optimistic yet measured.
"It’s good to go take downtime and go have a good little vacation somewhere where you’re enjoying yourself, but very quickly you need to start preparing," he said, following a late October training session. "Anytime you take more than a couple weeks off, the body starts to degenerate in terms of being at a high level.
"For me, I continue to run, get myself in the gym, and keep myself at a level where when I come back in, it’s not going from 0-to-100. I try to keep myself at around an 80."
Bornstein quickly established himself as a key cog among the Fire defensive unit following his acquisition from Israeli Premier League club Maccabi Netanya on July 22. On his debut -- a July 27 meeting with D.C. United -- the 35-year-old slotted in ahead of goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm and alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, Francisco Calvo, and Johan Kappelhof from the starting whistle, and helped the Fire keep Wayne Rooney and co. off the scoresheet in a 0-0 draw.
It marked the first of five clean sheets the Fire defensive unit would keep over the season's final 11 matches -- all Bornstein starts. In that span, the Fire’s 1.09 goals allowed per game ranked as the third-best in MLS. The Club's defensive rigidity following Bornstein's addition saw the team's postseason stock rise coming out of a mid-summer dip in form, en route to finishing just three points shy of a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"I think it shows a lot of character," he said. "Any time you’re in a bad moment as a team, sometimes it’s very hard to get out of that. It shows how committed everyone was in terms of wanting to make the playoffs. When I arrived here, the notion of making the playoffs was kind of far, but very quickly through the trainings, through the few results we got -- we won that first game on the road in Houston -- guys started actually believing truly that we could make that run.
"The guys really pushed, really trained hard, and gave it their all to attempt to make the playoffs."
Calvo, Kappelhof, and Bornstein will now be among the Fire's 2020 defensive returnees looking to improve upon the level of play the team reached over the season's final third. Despite the loss of the recently retired Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bornstein believes his continued work with the core of players coming back -- which also includes Marcelo, Andre Reynolds II, and goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm -- will be key to kicking off 2020 in the win column.
"Consistency is the biggest thing we’re going to need next season, so hopefully we can learn from what we did in the last part of this season to propel us to a good start in the 2020 campaign," he said.
Bornstein knows that he and his teammates will need to deliver when the opening whistle finally blows on March 21 against Atlanta United, and is eager to help recapture that Gold Cup atmosphere he experienced all those summers ago.
"We’re really excited as players that we’re going to get to play at Soldier Field because it has such history," he said. "I hope people come out and support us and -- not only stick with us through the offseason -- give us a chance if they’re not a fan of us already."
"Be a part of that experience. Go out to Soldier Field on March 21 and be a part of this new generation of the Chicago Fire."