There was a moment of genuinely inspired theatre toward the end of Saturday's season-ticket holder Town Hall meeting. Chicago Fire beat writer Jeff Crandall, serving as moderator, had previously announced that a single question remained in the Q&A portion of the program; once that question was answered, he startled head coach Frank Yallop and others in attendance by throwing a water bottle across the stage.
In the half-beat pause that followed, Crandall's grin gave a clue to the joke; the gales of laughter that followed, from Yallop and the assembled fans, indicated most everyone got it. Crandall then recounted the last time the Fire played a Yallop-led team, when Yallop's water-bottle toss allowed the Quakes catch their breath and eventually steal a point in the eighth minute of stoppage time. (Yes, it does still rankle.) With that, Crandall declared, we would begin eight minutes of stoppage time - in this case, open, unvetted questions from the assembled season-ticket holders.
It was that kind of get-together - loose, funny, and conversational. James Vlahakis, a friend of the site (and outside general counsel for the Chicago Fire), offers his thoughts about Yallop's first meeting with supporters.
James Vlahakis' report
To be clear: I'm speaking about today's town hall meeting as a long time Chicago Fire fan, not as an attorney associated with the club.
First impressions count.
When Coach Yallop came into the room he chatted with fans and looked completely at ease. Of course, that should come as no surprise given his background. When he took the mic in a question-and-answer session he was witty, funny and conversational. Again, that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but it was refreshing to see somebody speak to the season-ticket holder fan base in such a relaxed yet confident tone, as opposed to some bombastic American football coach. I won't name names - wait, I will. I went to Michigan State, so I will single out Nick Saban as one of the main perpetrators of this over-the-top approach.
In contrast, Coach Yallop has the cool presence of a top-notch EPL coach. Having said that, he is far friendlier than I could ever imagine Sir Alex Ferguson being. Here's a perfect example: During the open-question period, a fan asked him a very personal question - where he was thinking of living. Coach Yallop actually answered the question; it doesn't take much imagination to know what Sir Alex would've said in response.
There's not a lot that I've said so far that has anything to do with soccer. To me, all of what I've said above showed a lot about his character. Yallop gave off a great "I can do this" vibe. With that, and the reasons that follow, I walked away thinking "When will we win the MLS Cup?" as opposed to "Will we ever win the MLS Cup?"
I don't want to come off as overly confident, but turning to the soccer aspects of the town hall meeting, it was evident that the coach has a plan of action; this will not be "business as usual" approach of that past that many have complained about in many blogs. [*cough* - ed.] From the sound of things, he's evaluating salary caps and trying to fit the best players into a possession- and attacking-oriented style of play.
There is talk of a Designated Player, and it's quite possible that the DP may come from England, where the coach has strong ties. He's flying to England this evening, after which he will go to Spain to scout players. One of my favorite lines was when he said that he will push players to get the best out of them, that extra 10 to 15 percent that they might be capable of. I also like the fact that he's not afraid to bench players if they don't produce.
Another favorite line was when a fan complained about the lack of quality touch and passing among players. Coach Yallop responded by stating that passing would not be a simple warm-up drill on his team. I've got a good feeling that will see a different type of practice session out in the field this spring. As for youth, it appears that Yallop is more than willing to test young talent, something that our last coach was unwilling to do, much the frustration of the fan-base.
One final thought. It's clear to me that coach Yallop has already seen dozens of hours of game tape. While he won't brag about working 24/7 like some blowhard (for example, Nick Saban), it is clear that he has or will be going through hundreds of hours of tape in an effort to make the best of the team that he has, and to find the best DP player out there. Given multiple public statements that the Fire are willing to spend money, I find myself excited to eventually learn who that player or players will be. I have a pretty good feeling that we Fire fans won't find ourselves complaining about this year's DPs.
As for the atmosphere of the event, the room was decorated with some holiday decorations and I think everybody you walked away thinking, "This is a wonderful start for the holiday season, and a great way to end a not-so-great year."
Thanks again to James Vlahakis for his eyewitness report, and his efforts to insure Hot Time a presence at the meeting. You the man, James!