Let’s start this with a toast, friends: To the brave, crazy remnant of Chicago Fire support still turning up and turning out for this godawful, threadbare team - you are heroes. You are legends. When Nelson Rodriguez is a name we simply don’t mention, when association football in America is spreading into something far weirder and more satisfying than MLS’ dreams of power and control, either you’ll still be here, or the stories of you, which is as immortal as humans get.
I have some very bad news, though: MLS doesn’t see you.
We’re the serfs, you see. The biomass.
MLS - and its down-market partner, USL - is a lordly conception, barons conspiring to own something previously held in common; the idea is to possess not just a football club, but football itself. To merely approach, one needs a lordly introduction and a mass of bona fides. As is generally the case, their lordships’ claim on this massively profitable common-land, football, is voiced as a move toward greater efficiency and safety - and who champions wastefulness and danger? And so, inexorably, the common land is divided. Some of the lords are laggardly, or dissipated, or fraudulent; in those cases, the common land, previously well-tended by the serfs, falls into disrepair. Land that previously supported many families goes fallow.
To whom can the serfs petition? Which lord will disrupt his comfortable perch to hear that, for example, the threat to the commonweal by the smoke-bomb lobbed from Sector Latino was nearly zero? Or that group punishment for the actions of an individual within the group is considered a war crime? The reaction of the Fire’s front office to Section 8’s support of the Sector is telling - they simply don’t care what we think. “Out, all of you,” they’ve said, repeatedly, to people whose passion they use to market the club every day. Because we’re just the serfs. And these assholes think that there’s always more serfs.
Don’t think so? What do the serfs in Columbus think? Sacramento? San Antonio? Rochester? If you love soccer enough to support a team in those towns, you know what our soccer barons think of you and your passion. Oddly, MLS’ love seems centered around exploitable tax bases and publicly-funded stadia, and when those run out or wise up, its eye wanders.
There’s a lot of markets in the USA. Hundreds of places where a baron can bribe a key official, get a bit of buzz going, and try to get the taxpayers to buy you things. This grift is sufficiently persuasive that it’s quickly adopted by a grasping class of under-lords, viscounts and upjumped cavalrymen trying for a place at the big table. The easiest way to do that is to claim lordly rights in places where the serfs are doing fairly well for themselves - places like Chattanooga and Detroit and Greenville. The playbook is pretty simple: Move into the market claiming you’re here to ‘grow soccer in [city]’ and bring ‘real professional football to [city].’ Claim that the serfs, whatever they’re doing on the ground down there with their little serf programs, aren’t professional the way we are. Use your financial heft to isolate the serfs; make all the local lordlings bend the knee. Once you’ve broken the spine of the serf organization financially, stop investing in your own thing and start complaining about needing more serf tax money or you’re moving - where else are these serfs gonna get their football?
All of which is to say that, if you’re part of that remnant of Fire support who’s telling themselves this will all blow over, I think you need to prepare yourself for a world in which the Chicago Fire, as we’ve known them since 1997, simply do not exist. Whatever you feel like you’ve built, whatever good you’ve done up to now, is an inconsequential counterweight when considered against a lease that prevents the league’s pivoting to a different business model, or whatever. Our little serf programs are a shanty town of lean-tos and tarp-paper shacks, easily razed by a morning’s thuggery.
We are not part of the calculation. We’re the biomass, and they’re certain we will always be here, waiting to be sold something else. We could prove them wrong. Will we?