Tomorrow night the Chicago Red Stars will line up for their win-or-go-home playoff clash with the North Carolina Courage. After a season that included trading their star striker, struggling with several key players on the injury report, and a host of natural disasters, the fact that they’re here at all is something of a miracle.
Indeed, by the time June rolled around the Red Stars hadn’t won a game in a month and a half. I was emotionally preparing for the team to miss out on the playoffs for the first time in four years. I suspect I wasn’t alone among Red Stars fans in feeling that way. Here’s the thing, though: the kind of despair I would usually feel when a team I love is underperforming… just wasn’t there. I would’ve been disappointed, sure, but the only thing I ever wanted from this team— or indeed any team I support— is that they fight for what they want. The Red Stars are fighters. Even if we missed the playoffs this year, this is still a team you can be proud of.
I’m a relative newcomer to the Red Stars community, having become a fan of near the start of the NWSL era. I first joined the staff at Hot Time in 2015 as the Red Stars correspondent; at the time I was burned out on the Fire (the club and the supporter community), and the Red Stars felt like such a breath of fresh air. A competently-run organization, a team built to compete, and a supporter community that made being a fan, dare I say, fun.
There have been times this season when things in Red Stars looked dark— and not just because of the results on the pitch. But through it all, the CRS community has been an endless fount of positive vibes. Interacting with folks from Chicago Local 134 has been a rare pleasantry amidst Twitter otherwise being a roiling hell dimension. Working with the club to raise almost $1,000 for Center On Halsted this summer was an amazing experience. And, of course, I get to work with two of the best WoSo writers in the game.
Obviously, a talented team that gets results helps. It’s easy to talk about how pleasant and breezy Red Stars fandom is after securing our fourth consecutive playoff appearance. It’s easy to talk up CL 134’s community-building efforts when they’re not having to expend so much energy fighting with their team’s front office.
But as a fan of both professional soccer teams in this city, it’s hard to look at everything the Red Stars have going for them and not wish the Fire community could have those things too.
Despite what the #HauptmanOut crowd will tell you, there isn’t one big problem with the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and there isn’t one obvious solution. Andrew Hauptman could sell the club tomorrow and it won’t magically fix the corporate culture or the utter lack of winning mentality in the senior team. The sundered bonds of trust between the club and the supporter community will take years to repair— and may never be fully healed. And while the various supporter factions have (somewhat miraculously) managed to unite in the face of a common enemy, there is still a toxic rot at the core of the fanbase that has not been meaningfully reckoned with. Before the Sector Latino ban this summer, before the in-stadium protests, even before The Editorial, the default emotional state for most Fire fans in recent years has been Seething Resentment. The anger, the bitterness, the endless sense of grievance that grips the community cannot be healed except through a lengthy period of honesty and introspection.
I love the Fire. And I love the Red Stars. But too often, it feels like the latter has come to serve as a respite for the former. I cover the Fire beat and sometimes I wonder why I stay in this job. Then I talk with Sandra and Claire about Red Stars coverage and I remember why.
I wish it wasn’t this way. I want Fire fans to know the joy and warmth that fans of the other team at Toyota Park know every gameday. I want us all to have a team we can be proud of— a team that fights, a team goes into every game thinking they can win, a team that is set up for success by the club’s technical and administrative staff. I want a local media that gives the Fire the coverage they deserve— lifting them up in their achievements and their glory, asking uncomfortable questions when necessary, and always, always serving as that bridge between the team and the fans. And I want a supporter community that is serious about building a culture that makes everyone feel welcome.
Not all of this is in our ability to control. We can grouse about who we should sign on Big Soccer all day and it’s never going to deliver an MLS Cup. But some of this is up to us. We can build that inclusive culture. We can find ways to make being a supporter joyful again— even, and maybe especially, in the face of adversity. Section 8 is already doing this in their exile, with watch parties and fundraisers and all the thankless tasks that go into building a community. That work is hard, and will take years, and we may never fully get there. But we can do that work. Today.
And I’ve never met a Chicagoan who shied away from hard work.