By J Hutcherson (Sep 21, 2015) US Soccer Players – The next step for the Chicago Fire started over the weekend, though for some fans it has to feel like a long time coming. It’s easy enough to stress an action when a front office finally decides to take it.
“I share our fans’ frustration and, while we’ve enjoyed success off the pitch, I’m obviously not happy with the results on it. I felt the need to make changes now in order to better position ourselves for the off-season and beyond,” Chicago investor-operator Andrew Hauptman said in the press release announcing a new general manager and interim coach for the team.
What this really means is a waste of another season. Chicago hasn’t earned the benefit of anybody’s doubt at this point. Short of employment with the club, there’s no good reason to think that this team is capable of contending. That’s somewhat of an open concept in MLS. For some teams, that means making the playoffs. For others, it means advancing. What it doesn’t mean is propping up the wrong end of the table.
That’s the same MLS table that does a nice job allowing teams to flatter to deceive. The unbalanced schedule can make facing reality in this league difficult. You might be in 8th-place, but a couple of games in hand and one of the teams ahead of you hitting that Classic MLS losing streak and…. Chicago hasn’t been in that position for awhile. It’s why so many of the quick responses to Chicago bringing in former Chivas USA president and until this weekend US Soccer’s “managing director of National Team advisory services” Nelson Rodriquez as Chicago’s new GM and naming technical director Brian Bliss interim coach question the timing. It is the middle of September, after all.
Why so many MLS teams in trouble hang onto their coaches has been an ongoing discussion this season. Chicago finally moved against their record, but there might not be much point in acting now. Waiting for the season to finish is certainly less disruptive. Chicago management waited just long enough to give them a nice excuse when things don’t change quickly. At the same time, it’s an excuse they probably won’t have any need to use. The home fans aren’t likely to mistake this move as an attempt to somehow shoot the team up in the Eastern Conference and grab a playoff spot. That’s nine unlikely points away as it stands right now. It won’t stand that way for long.
In fairness to Chicago, they’re not the only team trying to work out why they can’t put together points in this league. Let’s continue to be fair. Chicago might not be the biggest disappointment in the East this season. They’re certainly not the biggest in MLS. Yet, somehow it can feel that way. That might not be fair, but it hauls in the rest of the issues the club faces.
Chicago was once crucial to the immediate future of MLS. They were proof that expansion could work and that a major market could take to a soccer team. They squandered that almost immediately. Suburban soccer didn’t work in Naperville but it didn’t stop the team from relocating to the village of Bridgeview.
After seasons of hearing about how Harlem Avenue is technically within the city limits of Chicago, it began to dawn on anybody paying attention that the stadium might be an issue. That wasn’t news to Fire fans, who hoped for the best from the beginning. “The best” meant turning a place once known for having a Krispy Kreme into a soccer town… with a water park… and paved parking. Instead, it’s an annoying drive from the population centers in Chicagoland with nothing much to do in the area except watch soccer. In that scenario, the club becomes desperate on the soccer being, well, worth watching.
The Bridgeview era Fire has had its moments. With a bit of luck, the Blanco/McBride era might have taken the slight step to an MLS Cup final. The problem for the Fire than and certainly now, is what really happens with a best case scenario in a setting that’s anything but. MLS in Chicago asks a lot of its fans before the team starts piling up losses. Turning around the team is one thing, but in Bridgeview it’s turning around an environment.
MLS won’t be getting a lot of help from Bridgeview. The realities of the stadium deal are an ongoing concern for a town that expected more for helping an MLS team build. It’s not the soccer story the league, team, or the village want to tell. So here they all are, watching another season pass the Chicago Fire by.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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