I’d like to write a nice column, one where I highlight all the great things the Fire are doing to make themselves the best darn soccer franchise in the US of A … where I point out that somewhere, puppies are frolicking, children are laughing, people are free and fulfilled because FIRE, and mean it, and everyone nods along.*
I’d like that, but I can’t.
Here’s the good news, if you’re that one intern assigned to read Hot Time and tell The Money if he’s mentioned: No matter what happens with the Chicago Fire this year, Andrew Hauptman is not going to lose money over the long haul, gang. What a relief, amirite? No need to keep holding your breath. Andy’s gonna come out flush, even if we ‘win’ another Wooden Spoon.
Nelson Rodriguez will also emerge from the smoking crater of the just-concluded offseason at some point, likely slipping sideways into the new reality his nearly year-long winless streak in the executive suite has birthed. Having built a successful football side with an unprecedented infusion of Targeted Allocation Money from MLS, Rodriguez has also overseen its stunning disintegration since last summer.
Consider: This team moved Matt Polster to right back because of its overwhelming quality in midfield one year ago; now starting in the middle, Tony Tchani, a guy whose every metric is a tick below Polster’s form in 2016. The Fire spent the back half of 2017 lamenting the fact that their lack of a central attacking threat led to an inability to break down static defenses; a few near misses later, we’re still left staring at passing charts that look like an angry child scribbling over a picture of a doughnut, with Zone 14 untouched in the middle.
And it all looks like it’s down to money, again. Juninho would look pretty decent as depth right now, but despite a general lack of interest in Mexico, Rodriguez couldn’t get him signed. Lee Nguyen seems purpose-built as a ‘win-now’ signing for the Fire, as he’s unhappy and unwanted in New England and prospers in that doughnut-hole area of the Chicago attack, but the grapevine says that Montreal is offering more for him than the Fire are. Bastian Schweinsteiger will spend the last year of his illustrious career gamely plugging holes? This was not the future we were promised.
Even Rodriguez’ loudly trumpeted morality has had to tone its act down now that the Fire have returned to parsimony. N-Rod suggested, at one point, that some of the difficulty with bringing in expensive foreigners revolved around ‘values,’ by which he hoped we would understand ‘morals’ but which we now understand to mean ‘bargains.’ How else to explain the last-minute signing of noted homophobia enthusiast Alan Gordon - who, at 36, is now 5 years removed from calling Will Johnson a ‘fucking faggot’ during a nationally-televised MLS match? Is this another example of the magical white-guy aging scale, where a 31-year-old striker with 7 years’ experience is also simultaneously a kid who just doesn’t know what he’s saying?
The point is, I’d like to talk about something else. But the problem with throttling the conversation the way the Fire attempt to is that you essentially force every independent source - like, frex, Hot Time - to bang away at the things you’re trying to hide, lest we be guilty of complicity in one’s collusion to protect The Money from Those Hard Words That Make The Money Sad.
I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and this reminds a little of the climax of the famous musical episode. We, like Buffy, are pleading: Don’t give us songs, Fire. Give us something to sing about. Make supporters happy and we’ll weave arias around your name, invent contrapuntal songs that proclaim your greatness, conceive and execute massive public arts projects around praising you.
Or don’t, and we won’t.
Either way, Andy makes money. See you next week.
*Also because the Fire communications team has, in recent years, developed a pronounced tendency to throttle one’s access to the team based upon the tone of one’s coverage, and it’d be nice if my writers could get some quotes and stats when they work a game.