Friday, as most of the world’s greatest city figured out just what one does after a combination group exorcism and tent revival at Grant Park for the Cubs - the seventh-largest gathering of its type ever!
That's joy. Meanwhile, in Bridgeview
... the ceaseless drip-drip-drip of ill-content among a much smaller Fire fan base finally filled the scandal cup and began to spill out into the wider world.
There’s a lot weird about being a Fire fan in 2016. Peer closely enough into the decisions, structure or management of the MLS’ franchise in Bridgeview, and you’ll find a resolutely black box. Ask that black box questions, and you may get answers - but they will not make sense when compared to what one already knows. Ask insistently, and you will be encouraged to go away.
Because this is the world we live in in Fire-land, a world dominated by hearsay and reprisal and whispered accusations never substantiated, the story of the screwing over of several Fire employees who love the badge by the new Czar of #cf97 couldn’t come through official channels of any kind. It was an old fan, a guy who maintained his connections with the players, who broke the story through the medium of the Chicago Fire messageboard community on Bigsoccer.
Long story medium: If you’ve heard Nelson Rodriguez didn’t care about his employee’s emotional relationship with the club, or heard that Mr. Rodriguez was petty and vindictive, or heard that Mr. Rodriguez was an arrogant flim-flam artist who had no respect for his staff or players - you might have already won! Because this story - enlarged and vetted from BigSoccer by veteran scribe Jeff Krause - rings every bell:
Rodriguez conducted a little on-the-job disciplinary session at one Academy practice, contradicting the coaching staff in front of Academy teams about when to slide-tackle, among other things. Another time, he told the staff they’d failed to produce any reasonable first-team candidates,* even asking CF97 stalwart Gonzalo Segares how he was qualified to be a coach.
The most visible member of the Fire Academy staff - Segares - was in line for a coaching award, and just weeks away from completing a UEFA coaching badge through an MLS agreement with French Football Federation. His resignation led Rodriguez to insist the award be given to someone else, and - more insidiously - a complete cancellation of Segares’ coursework with UEFA. Further reporting has indicated that most MLS teams would require a coach to pay the remaining weeks on his own; Segares was given the option to pay for the entire course immediately or lose all progress. Academy coaches don’t make bank. He couldn’t pay a huge surprise bill, and lost all the work he’d done to that point - and now has no route to a similar badge.
We should understand that this is just a summary of one tiny bit of Rodriguez’ time with the Fire - one little area where we’ve gotten a window into his style and his decision-making. But it is damning. This is him tearing up the roots of a fledgling organization. This is his style - abrupt, preeningly self-assured, and almost hilariously lacking in self-awareness or humility.
His postseason interview refused to say that a second straight Wooden Spoon was a failure. He’s disrespected or alienated every former player who seems to still harbor an attachment to the club. And he lies fluently, effortlessly - witness the hilarious extemporizing upon his hire that this was his ‘dream job’ - and 13 months later, he’s still commuting in from New Jersey 3-4 days a week.
So is there any way that this behavior makes sense? I do think so, although it’s an unpleasant prospect. We’ll talk about it next time.
*Some few months later, fresh off their (apparently meaningless) U18 USSDA Championship, Fire Academy products Cam Lindley and Mauricio Pineda became regular starters as freshman for University of North Carolina, currently ranked No. 4 in the nation. Their signing with the Fire is in no way automatic, as they may have better options overseas or merely choose not to associate with an organization that humiliated, then fired, their mentors.