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So About Those Rebrand Rumors

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In which Ruben has feelings about the rumored name change and move to Soldier Field

Toronto FC v Chicago Fire Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I’d really like to use this space for on-pitch editorializing about last week’s game against the New York Red Bulls. The squad deserve it. They played spectacularly with their backs against the wall of going yet another March without a win. Bastian Schweinsteiger looked comfortable at center back, and Mo Adams stepped in to central midfield cold and stopped whatever semblance of attack the Red Bulls were trying to put together. Nemanja Nikolic looked like “Old Niko,” and Jeremiah Gutjahr had a fantastic debut.

But the reality is I can’t. Because the sky is falling.

On Tuesday April 2nd, James Vlahakis, one of the attorneys in Abraham Calderon’s civil suit against Nelson Rodriguez and members of Monterey Security, leaked some screenshots of text messages that suggest a buyout of the Seat Geek Stadium deal, as well as a name change and rebranding for the club, were imminent.

Initially I was skeptical. Something like this has been banded about for years, and it seems to make the rounds on #CF97 Twitter every few months. It also seems like there’s a bit of context missing from the screenshots. You don’t just start a message with “rebrand.” There has to be messages before.

However, the story was gaining traction, and additional reports were being made independent of this one. This included one from Roberto Abramowitz, a reporter for ESPN Deportes Radio and NYCFC radio broadcasts.

So this is real. This Chicago City Soccer/Football Club thing may really be happening. And as one would imagine, the cf97 hashtag is in full panic mode. I can’t say I blame them.

The rumors and innuendo of a move back to Soldier Field in the imminent future have been swirling in the ether for some time now. The deal with Bridgeview has been a sticking point for Andrew Hauptman ever since he bought the club from AEG in late 2007. With the trend of MLS teams trending toward playing in urban areas, as opposed to suburbs like when the stadium was built, a move like this is not unexpected. Whether it’s a good move or not is a different question, however.

The national soccer media has been making a big deal of the stadium location in Bridgeview for a long time now. Yes, it does have some problems. It’s difficult to get to by public transit. The CTA and RTA are, if not ill equipped, unwilling to allocate necessary resources to transport the volume of passengers from the Midway L stop to SeatGeek on game days at the required scale. Other than the Orange Line/Shuttle bus combo, you have to drive to the stadium. And it’s a long drive. If you’re coming from the far north side (like where I live) You have two routes, The Kennedy to 294, or Lake Shore Drive to the Stevenson, both of which take around 45 minutes to traverse, depending on the time of day.

However, for those who live in the suburbs, especially the southwest suburbs, Bridgeview might be close to a perfect location. Moving the Fire to Soldier Field would put them off coming to games. Getting to downtown Chicago from places like Naperville or Lombard is an absolute chore that involves taking the Eisenhower. No matter where the Fire play, some fans are going to get screwed.

Regardless, we know that if the team is good, the stadium fills up. In 2007, 2008, and 2009, the Fire’s average playoff attendance was 17k, 17k, and 21k, respectively. There’s no better atmosphere in Major League Soccer than Fire fans during the playoffs, and we know people in this town will show up if there’s a good enough product on the pitch. The real reason that no one goes to SeatGeek Stadium is that for a large part of the last decade, the product on the pitch has been trash. The stadium location has minimal effect on people going to games.

So, you want to move the stadium, fine. Whatever. Make your bet on city-dwelling hipster fans coming out. But to change the club? That’s what breaks my heart. I was six years old when the founding of the club was announced on October 8th, 1997. I was seven on opening day. One of my earliest coherent memories was watching the MLS Cup final on ABC in my basement, on an awful couch inherited from my paternal grandmother on a Zenith CRT TV from, like, 1992.

The name ‘Chicago Fire’ evokes something more than a soccer team to me. It’s my childhood, my adolescence, and my adulthood. I’m a writer and a journalist because of the club. Changing the name and identity is a slap to my face and to all the faces of everyone like me. It’s not just the club. The name is a reminder that when everything is going wrong, when everything is burning around you, you can start again, bigger and more beautiful than ever before.

The name honors the best of this city. It honors the brave men and women who save lives day in and day out. It evokes a sense of community better than Chicago City Soccer Club could ever build. (Apologies to the actual Chicago City Soccer Club that already exists.) Why? Because the Chicago Fire, until recently, was community-driven. Everything felt collaborative, like the club and fans were all in this together.

This is not that. This is corporate grandstanding. This trying to fix a problem purely of their own making. This shows a lack of respect for the city, its fanbase, and even the game of soccer itself. This is a lack of respect for me, and those like me.

I’m still not sure if this will or won’t happen. I also don’t know if it matters. I try to see both sides of a situation when possible. When “The Editorial” happened, I was one of the few who gave Dan Lobring a fair shot at explaining himself on my old radio program. But there are no “Both Sides” to this. If there is any truth to these rumors, it would be nothing short of a betrayal— of the fans, of the players, and of themselves.