In my normal Tuesday slot here on HTIOT I usually try to pose a question or give anyone who reads a nugget to think about during the week as we lead up to game day, and sprinkle in my quick thoughts on the matter at hand. Could be something tactical, personnel related, about the leadership of the club, etc. This week, as the Fire take on the Revolution in a mid-week battle of the league has-beens, this one is a little closer to home. Literally.
I grew up in the Chicago area, but have been a Bostonian for three years now. Honestly, I have been pretty fortunate to live in what I think are two of the best sports towns in the country. From Wrigley to Fenway, the Garden to the Madhouse on Madison, and this guy name Tom, I’ve seen my fair share of sports success in the two cities.
There’s also an amazing hunger for soccer in both cities— I mean, 12,000 people showed up at the on Lansdowne Street in Fenway for a Premier League Fan Fest only a few weeks ago. Both cities host European preseason friendlies, are always in the mix to be host sites for continental tournaments and usually littered with soccer crazed fans at the pub on weekend mornings. That hunger hasn’t been satisfied by their local MLS clubs though, clubs that were once poster boys for a growing, exciting league of our own here in the U.S.
It’s amazing to look back at how dominant the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution were in the first decade of the 21st century, especially in the Eastern Conference. I mean, seriously, I even forget sometimes how consistently good these two clubs used to be, competing against one another year in and year out.
There were a combined six MLS Cup final appearances, four U.S. Open Cups titles, and a Supporter’s Shield from 2000-2010 between both the Men in Red and the Revs. The path to the MLS Cup usually ran through these two, creating what used to be classic clashes for the league. Between 2002 and 2007, the Revs ended the Fire’s season 4 times, including twice in the Conference Finals. Sandwiched in that run is an extra-time winner from Chris Armas to send the Fire into the 2003 MLS Cup at Soldier Field.
But the past ten years haven’t been as kind to either club as the first ten in the 2000’s, and the league has since passed these two clubs in almost every way. Since 2014, the clubs have a combined 3 playoff appearances, have stadium setups that would be considered less than ideal, and lack of real media attention in two of the biggest markets in the country. It’s been furious fall from grace, and apathy in both cities for their local team might be the highest it has ever been.
Absent a few bus billboards and half attempts at radio promotion, the Revolution don’t have a presence in Boston that comes even close to what they’ve earned in their early years. Sound familiar, Fire supporters? I get laughed out of the bar when asked to put the Revs game local broadcast on (because I can’t ask for the Fire game because…ya know what never mind, that’s another article.) The ones who do watch, who do go to Gillette, are frustrated with their coaching staff and an owner who doesn’t seem pot-committed to consistently build a real, lasting connection with the soccer community in the city and in the region. Again, that sounds all too familiar.
Look, it’s crowded space for both teams in sports crazed cities but look at the support and the energy behind those teams in the early days of the league. Can you imagine what the early 2000’s Fire or Revs might look like in today’s MLS?
Forgive my long-winded lament of what has been. I’ll leave the analysis of how both teams got where they are now, and how to go about fixing it, to everyone else for now. But as a Fire fan living in Boston, I feel an enormous sense of empathy for Revs supporters, mostly because we’re alike in many ways we don’t wish to be. Piotr Nowak, Ante Razov, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, and Shalrie Joseph aren’t walking through that tunnel at SeatGeek tomorrow night. These two teams won’t be the gatekeepers to any trophies this year as they once were. It will probably just be two teams having another sword fight as an arms race happens around them.
Revs fans, let’s go get a beer sometime. We both need it.