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New Year, New Everything for the Chicago Fire

No more excuses. Let’s go win something.

MLS: Chicago Fire Announcement-Soldier Field Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

We weren’t sure it would happen.

After all, DaMarcus Beasley had just played 90 minutes for the United States Men’s National Team in a friendly against Poland minutes before. He couldn’t possibly play for the Chicago Fire on the same afternoon, could he?

Turns out, he could. Beasley came on for the last 30 minutes or so of that 1-1 draw against New England in July 2004. I remember this match well for a couple reasons: One, that crazy feat of endurance by Beasley. And two, it was the last time I saw the Chicago Fire play in person at Soldier Field.

That will change, of course, this March. The Fire return to their original home and, after years of mounting losses and dwindling crowds in Bridgeview, try to win back the public’s interest in this crowded sports market.

Whatever happens, I’ll be along for the ride as the new site manager of Hot Time in Old Town, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Our new Swiss leadership duo comes in with huge jobs ahead of them, but they might just have the chops to pull it off.

New sporting director Georg Heitz oversaw the identification and development of some fantastic players at FC Basel--Mo Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Ivan Rakitic, to name a few. And his countryman Raphael Wicky--the Fire’s new head coach--has a Champions League knockout round appearance on his resume, and had the US U-17s playing attractive soccer in the buildup to the World Cup, before they eventually fizzled out.

I’m also excited to see what Joe Mansueto can do as our new owner. The Cubs and Blackhawks are both good examples of what a strong new owner can do to revitalize a team. Chicago soccer fans can point to Arnim Whistler’s success with the Red Stars as an example of what could be for the Fire.

Sure, the new logo flopped big time. That’s probably ultimately on Mansueto. But the team is advertising and marketing itself again, and Mansueto has been saying all the right things in interviews.

While he was slow to fire Veljko Paunovic and move Nelson Rodriguez away from the soccer side of the club, I like the fact that the Heitz was hired first, then Heitz chose Wicky, and now they’ll fill out the roster together. That way, everyone is accountable for their own decisions. They don’t have much time, though.

Here’s the bottom line: I’m glad the Fire are back in the city, because if this works, the upside is huge. I have no doubt Chicago can draw like Seattle or Atlanta. We’re a huge metro area, and the soccer fans are here.

But, the move alone isn’t going to solve the Fire’s relevance problem. Adding “FC” to the name in an attempt to win the SEO battle against Dick Wolf’s NBC show isn’t going to solve it. The new logo and colors won’t solve it. And signing a superstar like Lukas Podolski or Juan Mata or even Chicharito Hernandez won’t solve the problem, either (although, it would probably help.)

No, the team actually has to win something. In a league of parity, the Fire missing the MLS playoffs as often as they did over the last decade was an incredible display of incompetence. It’s almost like they had to try to be this bad.

I can remember being at a game against Orlando in the Summer of 2017, right after Bastian Schweinsteiger signed. Toyota Park was full and rocking. It reminded me of the Cuauhtemoc Blanco days. Sure, the novelty of seeing Basti had something to do with it, but the Fire were near the top of the table. Bridgeview never was the biggest problem. The losing was.

Winning will fix this. Winning will fill Soldier Field. Winning will stop us from fighting with each other on Twitter.

Who knows? Winning may make Fire fans actually start to like the new logo, too.

I’d like the chance to find out.

Go Fire.