If you're a Chicago Fire supporter, and you're nervous, Frank Yallop has a message for you: Don't worry, little heart - I got this.
From the rousing cheer that greeted his introduction at the annual Town Hall meeting for season-ticket holders, it's clear the message is connecting with CF97's most ardent fans. In just over an hour of questions, Yallop was avuncular, charming and straightforward.
So we enter this winter far from discontented in Fire nation - indeed, optimism seems the order of the day in this new Era of Good Feelings. Sadly, results are less tractable than statements, especially ones workshopped in advance; will this Era presage a true rebirth for the Fire, or (like its namesake) will it prove to be public-relations whitewash hiding real problems?
Technical difficulties* prevented this reporter from getting much in the way of quotes; my transmission was garbled, but Yallop's message was still clear: The Fire will be good next year without massive overhaul. "The roster is strong," Yallop said repeatedly, later elaborating, "Some little tweaks, some pushing and pulling on some players by me, and it will be quite strong."
Since my garble-o-tron transmission proved difficult to suss out, I will turn to my fellow Fire-watchers on Twitter for the highlights:
On the roster:
Yallop says task 1 was figuring out where the club was budget wise. Club was "stretched"— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) December 14, 2013
#CF97 Town Hall: FY been watching films. Knows he can get just a bit more out of some of the guys and instill some confidence.— Joel Biden (@JoelBiden) December 14, 2013
Actively moving to sign another keeper. Expects Johnson could be on World Cup squad— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) December 14, 2013
We are looking to strengthen the middle of defense with only Baky and Berry there now— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) December 14, 2013
On Chris Rolfe:
Yallop: "We're negotiating with Chris Rolfe...We're close." #cf97— On The Fire (@OnTheFire97) December 14, 2013
On building a staff:
Yallop: "Bringing C.J. Brown back to #cf97 was the simplest thing I've ever done in soccer."— On The Fire (@OnTheFire97) December 14, 2013
On Designated Players:
#CF97 Town Hall: FY"Andrew Hauptman is not afraid to reach into his pocket"— Joel Biden (@JoelBiden) December 14, 2013
#CF97 Town Hall: FY looking for attacking Mid for magee and Nyarko to work off of.— Joel Biden (@JoelBiden) December 14, 2013
On Mike Magee:
Yallop: "Mike Magee is a winner. It hurt him that #cf97 didn't make the playoffs. He was pissed off."— On The Fire (@OnTheFire97) December 14, 2013
On Harrison Shipp:
Harry Shipp can play in MLS. "We'll get him" says Yallop. Looks like a young Mike Magee— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) December 14, 2013
On developing youth:
Yallop re: Victor Pineda: "I didn't want to let anyone go that has potential to make our first team." #cf97— On The Fire (@OnTheFire97) December 14, 2013
On preferred style:
Yallop: "I'm a 4-4-2 guy, whether it's a diamond or a flat four." #cf97— On The Fire (@OnTheFire97) December 14, 2013
#CF97 Town Hall: FY addresses Goonie Ball. Says he prefers possession and presses. Likes crosses. Always Be Attempting To Kill The Game Off— Joel Biden (@JoelBiden) December 14, 2013
On USL-Pro decision:
Fire has spoken to a couple of USLpro clubs about affiliation but will go with reserves in 2014— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) December 14, 2013
This is just a sampling - it was a solid hour of Q&A with the boss, and it felt open. It felt honest.
Fire general counsel James Vlahakis told me, "If you weren't on board already - if you were still doubting - and you were there, then you're probably on board now. I felt like pumping my fist." Vlahakis also emphasized that, after the meeting adjourned, Yallop stayed around, talking with season ticket holders and staff - "spreading his personality around" is how my grandmother would've termed it. OnTheFire.com's Scott Fenwick seemed to sum up the feeling of those in attendance with this tweet:
Frank Yallop was affable, friendly, open, & honest today. Knowlegable. Confident. He's a breath of fresh air. #cf97— On The Fire (@OnTheFire97) December 14, 2013
Now we wait, and watch, and hope. So far, so good - but: Results, motherf%#ker.
*The weather prevented Hot Time's reporter from attending, and as a stop-gap, friend-of-the-site James Vlahakis arranged for me to listen in via a phone. Shortly after the opening remarks - which, as I noted, were warm and welcoming in the extreme - the signal turned into a series of weird digital artifacts, as Mr. Vlahakis' signal met the onslaught of winter weather.
Picture me, headphones in, hands over ears, struggling to make sense of "dib ... pers ... slav ... middle ... <crackling laughter> ... solid ... push ..." For the next 60 minutes, I strained to make sense of the digital soup, feeling like a signal-intelligence operator somewhere remote. There I am, in a submarine off the coast of Finland, listening to the Soviet command channel - but I failed Russian II, and I've got a bad head cold, so my entire report consists of "Soviet Navy seems worried" or something. The joys of community journalism. (We do have an eyewitness report in the works.)