The Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union will play their biggest match of the season tonight, as both clubs vie for a spot in the U.S. Open Cup finals.
We here at Hot Time In Old Town have already highlighted the reasons Philadelphia is awful. And to be honest, we went easy. I mean honestly we could have dedicated an entire post about the culinary disasters that city passes off as food. Their signature dish is overcooked steak smothered in tepid cheese with a few textureless vegetables on a slab of bread large enough to fuel a handful of marathon runners.
If you are going over the top on cheese and carbohydrates, make it a circle, keep it open face and throw delicious tomato sauce and toppings on it like a real city.
But enough about the glaring differences between our cities. It turns out I am the bearer of bad news and I am here to say the Fire and Union have a whole lot in common. They are united in misery.
For starters, both teams are generally poor at playing soccer. Both fan bases are not very fond of ownership. And of course both teams play in cities that are not even in the actual city they are billed from.
There was one game last year where literally both teams refused to win. The Fire came back to tie Philadelphia at 2-2 and reigning MVP Mike Magee took a penalty kick in the sixth minute of stoppage time and was denied by Zac MacMath twice. Twice! A point for everybody! Could be both these clubs' mottos if they weren't so good at also getting zero points.
Granted, the misery is pretty much all Philadelphia’s fault; I will get to that in a second. You see, before Philadelphia joined MLS in 2010, the Chicago Fire were good. Really good. Before Philadelphia joined in 2010, the Chicago Fire missed the playoffs only once. One season with no playoffs! Do you even remember how that feels?
From 1998 to 2009, the Chicago Fire won an MLS Cup, made it to more MLS Cup finals, won so many U.S. Open Cups everyone called them Kings of the Cup and then even took a Supporters Shield. Even in the lone year the Fire missed the playoffs in 2004, they made it to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions Leage.
Then Philadelphia decides to join the league and the Fire forget how to be a professional soccer organization. From 2010 on, the Fire have made the playoffs only once and in that season they lost immediately to the Houston Dynamo in the first round. The Fire have done literally nothing else of note since the Union joined the league. The team hasn’t even made it to a final of a single competition.
But the Union weren’t going to spread their voodoo magic of super suck to Chicago without holding on to a hefty piece for themselves. In Philadelphia’s glorious five full seasons, it has made the playoffs exactly once and made it to last year’s U.S. Open Cup final. The Union of course lost that final because they are the Philadelphia Union.
Is it enough for the Union to somehow make the Fire fall of the rails and simultaneously be awful for their own fans? NO! The Union want the Fire to REALLY share in their misery so they hire Chicago legends as coaches and then fire them.
The Union first ruined Piotr Nowak, pegging him to lead the club into its inaugural MLS season. The first-ever Ring of Fire inductee took Philadelphia to the conference semifinal’s in the club’s only good season in 2011. What did he get in return? Fired! Why? Probably because the club management wanted him to somehow win an MLS Cup with Jack freakin McInerny as his top striking option. Or maybe because he was known for his playing days in Chicago and the Union clearly want to keep Chicago in their loop of misery. By the way, McInerny scored eight goals that season.
After firing the man who took them to the conference semifinals, Philadelphia hired John Hackworth who did absolutely nothing. How did the Union rectify that situation? They hired another Fire legend in Jim Curtin. Now Curtin is having a bumpy first full season, but he has shown glimmers of hope in the darkness that is Philadelphia soccer.
After taking over Philadelphia in the middle of last year, Curtin took the Union to the U.S. Open Cup final and barely lost to Seattle. He now has the team on the verge of another final appearance. Judging by the club’s reaction to semi-success with Nowak, they probably are already looking for replacements to Curtin. God knows they don’t want these awesome former Fire players leading their team to the brink of trophies.
They also ruined former Chicago Fire defender and MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry just for fun.
It’s fashionable to blame the Fire’s misfortunes on owner Andrew Hauptman. Sure, maybe it seems like he doesn’t invest enough, "ambitiously pursuing" Designated Players like Juan Luis Anangono and Sherjill MacDonald. But he purchased the team in 2007. From 2007 to 2009, the Chicago Fire missed making the MLS Cup finals by one goal in each season.
What changed? Philadelphia entered the league. I rest my case.
I don’t know how, but Philadelphia has somehow pulled the Fire into its loop of misery with some unbreakable cosmic pull. One of these teams has a chance to break the cycle by going on to win the U.S. Open Cup. And it will probably be Philadelphia that gets that chance because the Fire have won a total of three road games in the Frank Yallop era.
The good news is one of these teams has to make it to a Cup final. It is literally impossible to avoid at this point. That lucky fan base will experience that sweet familiar feeling of hope only for it to likely be extinguished by the much less miserable Sporting Kansas City or Real Salt Lake.