This week I feel like my grandmother died suddenly in her chair of an unexpected illness.
I mean, everyone knew grandma was old and had a few health issues. It was no secret that she needed to take her blood pressure medicine and she had hip pain than slowed her pace down and made it difficult for her to get in and out of the car. Even with these conditions, no one expected her to just die on the spot. We all knew she only had a few good years left, but we all thought we would have time to fly into town and say goodbye in the hospital as she drifted away. No one expected her to live forever but we all hoped for a few more visits.
This is how I felt about the 2013 Fire season. I knew we were not going to go deep into the playoffs against the high caliber clubs we would be facing, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. There were so many options and different ways for the Fire to make the playoffs. Sure, there were a few illnesses - like the inconsistency of the back line, the inability to possess the ball, and the inability to control the pace of the match - but no one expected that everything would go wrong on the last day of the season. She was looking better! They were talking home release!
All that had to happen was one of three things: one of either Houston or New England needed to lose, and/or the Fire had to win or draw. No one expected the Fire to go all the way and take the silverware, but we all thought we had a few more moments and one or two playoff matches to share with the club. We thought we had a few more moments to watch Mike Magee make another brilliant finish in front of a diving goalkeeper.
I watched Sunday’s match from home a few minutes behind real life after recording it on the DVR and waiting for my close friend who was visiting town to hit the road. I took pains to avoid looking at my phone so I did not accidentally find out what was happening and so I could watch free of any outside knowledge about how the Crew and Revolution match had ended. I was only an hour behind so I resolved to catch up as much as possible by fast forwarding the half time show.
When the Fire drew first blood I was elated. I was sure that Mike Magee had secured the Golden Boot and the MVP with his effort and I was encouraged by the stats that New York has not won this year when giving up the first goal. My confidence rose and the energy in the early part of the match raised my confidence in the Fire. After all, their second half of the season was among the best in Major League Soccer.
My confidence deflated fast; Grandma was surrounded by crash carts. As the New York Red Bulls piled on goal after goal my confidence waned and I felt like the child who had just been told that grandma went to a better place. My hopes felt hollow and unjustified as I sat rocking on my couch with my legs curled under me asking the TV “why” over and over. Mike Magee's hopes slipped away.
By fast-forwarding through the half time I lost track of minutes and I could not even say at what minute each goal happened (I could not bring myself to watch this one over) because all of the goals blended together. I knew I was watching my last remnants of hope drift away and disperse like steam from a hot shower. I did not even smile when Quincy Amarikwa lessened the damage to 5-2.
So now where are we, the fans, left? As the days move on, the initial sting of the loss has begun to numb to a noticeable throb. With the Fire fandom on the outside looking in at the MLS Cup playoffs, it seems too early to think about moving beyond our grief. However, there is always hope and a future following every loss. With every loss there is a new beginning. For the Fire faithful we can only hope that the renewal will bring massive changes and new life to the club.
On 10/30/13 the Chicago Fire formally announced that, as suspected, they would be parting ways with both Chicago Fire’s President of Operations Javier Leon and Head Coach Frank Klopas, with Guillermo Petrei expected to be next. The announced changes demonstrate a commitment by the Fire to improve on the 2013 performance and make changes necessary to improve what ails the club’s success. Is it clearly time to cut ties with key leadership figures so that the denial phase of grief can end, we can mourn the loss of our loved players and coaches and move on to a new beginning. These types of separations are never easy, especially with a Head Coach as ingrained in the history of the club as Klopas is, but it is time for the Fire to head into a new direction.
First, the Fire will need to replace its leadership. Popular candidates for Head Coach include Jesse Marsch, the former head coach of the Montreal Impact (in their first season), and Martin Rennie, recently cut loose by Vancouver. Personally I think the Fire want to try something different and move in an entirely different direction. I expect to see the Fire bring in someone no one expects. I want to see them bring in someone to rock the twittersphere a bit. I am not going to pretend to know who that person is. Whoever they bring in, I think it is essential that the new candidate have a vastly different approach and system thea Frank Klopas. I would also like to see his replacement increase focus on player conditioning, especially in the off season.
I hope Leon’s replacement will be someone who is capable of attracting key designated players, cut bloated (and sometimes sentimental) contracts, and usher in a new era for Chicago. I want CF97 to be a club players from all over the world want to play for. I would like to see the Fire demonstrate a willingness to separate from older players and bring in younger talent. Names that I think should be in consideration for the chopping block (in addition to Joel Lindpere) should include: Wells Thompson, Maicon Santos, Logan Pause, Gonzalo Segares and Chris Rolfe. For success to be achieved in Chicago the Fire will need to sacrifice even some beloved players to make improvements and space for new talent.
Player acquisition must focus on shoring up the back line and improving the striker corps. The Fire must pick up a premiere caliber center back, at least one starter and one bench defensive wing and a top line striker to pair with Mike Magee while Juan Luis Anangono improves upon his skills. Perhaps even a DP who gets Keane-like money?
Perhaps my goals are a bit lofty. Change does not happen overnight. It could take a few years of rebuilding to get the Chicago Fire Soccer Club up to a competitive level with some of the premiere clubs in MLS. Despite the difficulties in achieving success, the changing of the guard signals willingness by the front office for the Fire to be reborn as a new and improved entity.
I, for one, am excited to see how this offseason goes.