The soccer news starts with the Chicago Fire announced that Joe Mansueto is now the club’s investor/operator. Mansueto had a minority stake in the club before buying out Andrew Hauptman. The change in investor/operator comes as the club plans to move back to Soldier Field next season while considering a rebranding and name change.
“I joined Andrew as a partner because he developed a tremendous platform for continued soccer growth across Chicago and beyond,” Mansueto said in a press statement. “He and the entire organization have worked tirelessly to dramatically increase the profile of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, MLS and the game overall and have left a wonderful legacy for our city,” said Mansueto. “The timing of this transaction couldn’t be better as we return the world’s game to the city I love.”
After a 4-0 shutout of FC Dallas, Chicago is three points out of the playoff spots with three games left in the season. The unbalanced schedule has them on 31 games played to 30 games for the teams currently 6th and 7th in the Eastern Conference table, but they have a chance for postseason soccer. That would salvage a rough season where the talk of what happens next year easily overshadowed this year.
What becomes of the Fire is only a major story across the league right now because the team made it one. They’re one of several teams trying to figure out where they fit in the current version of MLS. It’s not easily answered, with the Fire leaving Soldier Field for Bridgeview in 2006 in the era of soccer-specificity over everything else. Times change, but it’s worth asking why playing at an NFL stadium will work out better now than it did then.
Should the move back to Soldier Field go as planned, the team is returning to the old issues with scheduling, field conditions, and most importantly trying to draw enough fans so a 61,500-seat stadium doesn’t look empty. Seattle sort of does that, but tarps over seating areas is still very MLS 1.0. Atlanta does it, but they have shared ownership with the NFL team, a retractable roof, and turf. New England has two of those three things, but the distance from Boston is a problem for the soccer team.
What supercedes all of those variables with NFL stadiums is a willingness to spend. A competitive team pushes the product in any market, something the Fire had back when Bridgeview was considered one of the better home fields in the league. Treating that as part of the package is fine, but it’s happening when player recruitment has never been more competitive in MLS.
Also in the soccer news, LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic cast his vote for best player in league history. Not at all surprisingly, he picked himself. “I think I’m the best-ever player in MLS, and that’s without joking,” he said.
Regardless of where you land on the Zlatan show, he has a point. What he doesn’t have is an MLS Cup. Without successfully navigating the playoffs in this league, there’s something missing for any individual player. Lift the trophy, and it’s a stronger argument.
The Observer’s Jonathan Wilson explains why the Champions League group stage is so predictable. The Telegraph’s Jason Burt sees a Premier League advantage in the Champions League. The Independent’s Dermot Corrigan on Real Madrid’s midfield problems. World Soccer’s Tim Vickery updates the situation with South America bidding for the 2030 World Cup.
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