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Roundtable: Representation Is Important

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The Hot Time crew unpacks the win over Orlando, John Strong and Stu Holden’s comments on the Fire FO, and the Red Stars’ huge playoff game tomorrow night

MLS: Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

James Bridget Gordon: Happy Monday, everyone.

In light of the Fire’s win yesterday, describe your current emotional state in one word.

Ruben Tisch: I’m pretty good. They played well, and that’s really all I can ask.

James Bridget: <ahem>

That’s not one word.

Ruel Gutierrez Apostol: Content.

Adnan: Ecstatic.

Ruben: The broadcast, though. I feel like John Strong and Stu Holden going in on literally everything and everyone was inspired and necessary.

James Bridget: Well, we’ll get to that in a little bit, I want to start with the game itself.

Ruben: I’m happy with MDL’s performance. That was such a feel good in a year full of feel bads.

RJ: MdL is the goat, Vincent showed the world what happens when he plays in his natural position and Bronico showed some creative spark (TM) through the match.

James Bridget: Ya hear that, weird angry dude from Big Soccer? Creative spark.

Ruben: <facepalm>

James Bridget: Also yes, MdL had a great game and I’m so happy to have him back.

Adnan: I loved watching Orlando capitulate. Like the Fire did well to capitalize but Orlando gave us a lot, which was nice of them.

James Bridget: I also thought Basti did pretty well yesterday. A lot’s been said about him playing at CB, and it definitely doesn’t always work, but I think it was a perfect fit for this game.

Ruben: It’s easy to do well when you have nothing to do, tbh.

James Bridget: Right, which is why it was perfect for this game. It seems obvious but this team has gotten so many basic tactical ideas wrong this season that it’s worth calling out when they do something right.

Ruben: Also, he got beat by Dwyer at all relevant times. Dom just never finished his chances.

James Bridget: Dwyer cause problems for the entire backline. It’s what he does. I don’t think that’s down to Basti messing up, I think this is just Dwyer’s wheelhouse.

Ruben: I don’t think he messed up either. I’m just pointing out he had a tough time keeping up.

James Bridget: On that note though, we got Good Sanchez back. So that was nice.

Ruben: He actually caught a ball!

James Bridget: What a time to be alive!

Ruben: Sure.

Adnan: The problem with that is if Sanchez has a decent end to the year then NRod is gonna have hope he can start next season. And then Sanchez will revert back to the keeper we all know he is.

James Bridget: I think there’s a strong possibility that Sanchez is going to be the starting GK next year regardless, because there’s no real accountability at this club.

Adnan: If that happens then MLS would have to step in at that point. Just liquidate the club.

Ruben: That’s my biggest fear, but then I feel guilty about rooting for someone to fail.

James Bridget: Whatever the merits are for that, MLS isn’t going to intervene at that scale because our goalkeeper is bad.

Anyway, last thing about the game itself before we start grousing about the FO again.

RJ: Lads, it was Orlando.

Ruben: That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good, Debbie Downer.

James Bridget: I know it’s Orlando, but it’s also us. We’ve gone up against bad teams this season and gotten clowned. We played Colorado this year in a game where we should’ve run the table, and we had to settle for a draw. We’ve struggled against the shit teams this year. Being able to win these games is a first step.

RJ: I think the break did the team some good. Hopefully the Fire can move forward with this result and beat the Revs.

We could pull a Chelsea this year and just squash playoff dreams.

James Bridget: Spite can be a very powerful motivator.

And on that note, let’s talk about the broadcast.

The game was on FS1, with John Strong and Stu Holden in the booth. They spent a long stretch of the first half basically going in on the Fire front office. It was pretty remarkable, if only because of everything the FO does to try and control the message.

RJ: Yeah I’ve heard bits of it and I honestly do wonder if anything will come out of it. N-Rod and co. seriously cannot continue on with this, someone up in the FO has to give. According to tweets from Paul T. from the Athletic people from MLS HQ are watching, but I doubt they are going to intervene.

Ruben: Idk, man. All I know is that it felt good to have someone do that, who isn’t Taylor Twellman. Stu is still a bit of an outsider, so he has more freedom to not have to consider his words like TT does.

James Bridget: The thing is, John and Stu know who butters their bread. They’re not going to do anything that would seriously jeopardize their livelihoods. So what’s remarkable about this for me, more so than what they said, is that they felt secure enough in their positions to say this.

There’s a couple ways you can read that. The tinfoil hat approach would be that MLS HQ worked with FS1 and used the broadcast to send a message to N-Rod. Another way, and one which I think is more realistic, is that the Fire’s lost so much pull and credibility that no one outside the Chicago bubble feels like they have anything to fear.

RJ: Does the Fire even have that much power to go against a media giant like Fox?

Ruben: Fox has always had a not problem with hot takes, regardless of who they were at. They hired Eric Wynalda. After he was essentially blackballed.

James Bridget: They also didn’t take Wynalda back after he burned bridges during his USSF presidential campaign.

Ruben: I wouldn’t have either. I’d still consider him to manage, tho.

James Bridget: To address your point, RJ, I don’t know how the power relationship there works but I can definitely imagine this FO picking that fight, even if they couldn’t win it. I’m fairly certain there were some spicy voicemails left last night.

Ruben: It’s my experience that pissing off Eric Shanks is a bad Idea. Even with all the bad decisions Fox Sports has made, I have a lot of respect for him.

James Bridget: Well, let’s not get too inside baseball with this.

So the obvious follow-up question to all this is will any meaningful change come as a result. I’m leaning towards No. I think the FO is pretty set on their plan, whatever it is, and they’re clearly not going to let bad PR get in their way.

Ruben: I think something is going to happen, but I think this won’t have any effect.

As I care most about what happens on the field, (this is where Holden was most correct I think) I desperately hope the plan involves not failing in the off-season, again. Sign a 10, a GK, and a CB to pair with Kappelhof please.

RJ: Extend Kappelhof’s contract. Give him whatever he wants.

James Bridget: That’s the thing though, I don’t think you can just tease out the on-pitch stuff. Like, I really believe the reason we have problems signing good players is because the culture at the club has turned too sour. Guys in the league talk to each other. Former Fire players don’t stay quiet and diplomatic about things, even if they don’t always go to the press with their stories. So most half-decent players in the league who have a choice in where they play won’t come here, because they’ve Heard Things.

Ruben: That’s probably true. They also said they’ll take care of their players. But not too well. No Taj Mahal training facilities.

James Bridget: So, I don’t know. I feel like we keep hoping every big development is going to be the thing that finally brings the administration down, and then nothing happens. It’s just like Trump.

Anyway, next Saturday. Revs. On the road. Think we can keep the momentum going?

Ruben: The Revs are (also) trash, so there’s hope. But they’re less trash then the Fire, record-wise, so.

James Bridget: Very few teams are more trash than the Fire. We have to accept that. We’re the underdogs in basically every game now.

Ruben: <plays Underdog by Kasabian on repeat>

James Bridget: smh

Anyway, I’m gonna say 1-1.

Ruben: 3-1 Fire. I’m off to watch Southampton and Brighton.

James Bridget: My condolences.

RJ: 2-0 Fire.

James Bridget: Amazing what a win can do for your confidence, eh?

Claire Watkins: Me going through all the conspiracy theories I subscribe to: hmmm nope, too dark.

But also: Hurricanes are real!

James Bridget: Hmm

Are they tho?

How do we know that hurricanes weren’t made up by US Soccer to screw the Courage at the end of their record breaking season?

How. Do. We. Know.

Claire: It was me. I did it I controlled the winds

James Bridget: I knew it!!

Anyway, the Red Stars Hype Train cannot be stopped, although inclement weather, it seems, can delay it.

Claire: Still got another 24 hours to go, which is certainly a Vibe.

One of my hopes for the delay was that it’d help a decent injury report for Chicago, and it seems to have succeeded in that. Everyone barring Elby, who’s questionable, is good to go for the match, which is huge.

James Bridget: Yeah I was really worried about Short before the delay, so at least we’ll have her back.

Claire: Chicago’s defense was going to need to be intact to have a real shot, so I’m stoked

Adriana Hooper: The injury report is better than I thought it would be. The game will be a bit nerve wracking but should be a good one. Going to be a physical fight I think. Probably both literally and figuratively lol.

I expect to see a lot of “look how clear it is in Cary today!” Tweets tomorrow.

James Bridget: It’s already happening! Amber Brooks posted that exactly on Twitter earlier.

Claire: Yeah, fans are gonna have a feeling about it. That’s ok! I’d have a feeling about it too.

James Bridget: I feel like both teams, and both sets of fans, are heading into this game motivated more by spite than by the chance to go to the Final.

Spite-as-motivation definitely seems to be the theme for this weekend in Chicago Soccer.

Claire: I’m trying to stay out that noise tbh. Stay joyful. Score goals.

Adriana: As Brooks tweeted just a few days before how she couldn’t get out of Houston because of the hurricane but now on a Monday, she’s good!

Anyways, I get their feelings and they’re valid, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. And the complaints and vitriol were too much for me.

The last thing I’ll add on that is I think people don’t realize (or don’t want to) it wasn’t played in Cary tomorrow because of the travel/recovery time to make the final Saturday.

But both teams now had to travel a pretty far distance and play in PP, so I’m expecting a good match because they’ll all be fired up and ready to prove each other wrong.

Claire: Exactly, AHop. It was to mitigate the damage the delay will have on the winning team before the Final. Neither of these teams wants to hit a wall at 60 minutes against the dang Thorns at home. Even though that might just happen anyway.

Adriana: Yup, if the final was say 2 weeks after semis then this all wouldn’t have mattered but 3 less days of rest, you have to do something and taking out travel time was the thing they came up with. Whoever wins going up against the Thorns anyways at home is going to be rough so you want as much help as you can get.

Claire: This isn’t the first time I’ve said this this year, but I don’t really know how to feel about this game. It certainly feels like the Red Stars can take it to the Courage, but also it could be over so quickly.

James Bridget: Same, but also the uncertainty itself feels different. In past games I felt like there was too little to go on to get my feelings in order. Now it feels like there’s too much going on.

Claire: The last regular season game being such nothing doesn’t help with that I think. Like the last game that mattered was what, Orlando?

James Bridget: For real.

Adriana: For me. Let’s start with last year, coming into the semi I felt confident Chicago could do it and it was a really close game but I didn’t get the same feeling I got this year, if that makes sense. I feel more confident because they look looser than they have. But like you both, it really is hard to nail down a confident feeling either way.

Claire: In a way, I think the game is going to come down to how Chicago shows up. We know what NC can do, and they’re gonna do it. The question is can the Red Stars handle it. Which is hard to predict completely.

Adriana: I agree with that assessment for sure. Chicago’s kind of a wildcard.

Sandra Herrera: No matter what happens the one Absolute is that ‘The Decision’ wasn’t handled in an adequate amount of time from the league and hopefully is a learning point for the future.

But SOCCER!

I think if Chicago is able to possess with limiting their turnovers it’ll give them the best opportunity during the Semifinal. The Courage are an insanely out of this world great pro team - and Chicago will likely need their best game of the season to have a chance.

Saw that Thorns owner Merritt Paulson mention that there are currently only 2-3k tickets sold for this match, not sure that’s a huge advantage for anyone. But agree that the Spite Bowl is on for tomorrow, at least from the Courage’s perspective.

I caught up a bit with the Red Stars during their practice on Saturday before they left to PDX on Sunday, and the vibe of the team is incredibly light-hearted and filled with excitement about the game. Although I imagine that’ll change when they hit the pitch. No one believes they will defeat North Carolina. No one. So they will have to carry that belief themselves.

And I am looking forward to covering the match.

James Bridget: Yeah you’re heading out there for the semifinal tomorrow and then Claire’s joining you for the Final on Saturday. HTIOT Represent.

Claire: It’s gonna be a good-ass time.

Adriana: Agreed, I think that’s the key. NC having Zerboni out frees up that midfield a fraction and if Chicago can keep possession, it’ll only help them. And that belief you mention is a big thing. Every single person is already spinning the narrative that it’ll be another NC/POR final completely blowing this game over and that also makes you feel a certain way, now you have something extra to prove.

Sandra: Not matter what happens, Claire and I will be in Portland to scream Chicago rappers lyrics in ya city, believe that.

James Bridget: Would you say you’ve got your city doing front flips?

Sandra: I would also say, if you ain’t gang, you can’t hang - in fact.

Claire: Representation is important, in that it is important that we represent the city this weekend.