Back in February, when COVID-19 started to look more and more serious, I had a conversation with a Chicago Fire staffer about whether the league would consider holding games without fans.
We both agreed that idea seemed absolutely crazy. Football without fans? How would that even work?
On the morning of March 11, I visited SeatGeek Stadium to cover the day’s training session. Luka Stojanović and Boris Sekulić had just gotten to Chicago a few days prior, and it was my first look at what was essentially the entire 2020 team. By then, elbow bumps had replaced handshakes, and there was growing uncertainty about what would happen going forward. But, there was still little doubt the Fire would be traveling to Florida to play Orlando City that weekend.
That night, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus, the NBA suspended games, MLS followed suit the next morning, and everything changed.
Since then, we’ve been introduced to bubble tournaments, quarantine periods, PCR tests, and COVID delays. Zoom meetings replaced post-game news conferences, even when we were all in the same stadium. And, yes, the once unthinkable idea of playing games behind closed doors became a necessary reality.
Needless to say, my first year here at Hot Time wasn’t what I expected. Considering the circumstances, though, I still think we managed to put out some interesting stories. Here are a few of my favorites I wrote in 2020:
- JANUARY: With 12 goals, Robert Berić proved to be a solid signing for the Fire. Despite his great first season, nothing he did on the field could have topped the splash he made with his introductory video, doing a shot of Malort on camera. I looked at how the Fire’s media team pulled an all-nighter to make the viral video happen.
- FEBRUARY: Elliot Collier showed up at training camp out of contract, and was able to impress the new coaching staff and earn a new contract. Collier opened up about his previous year on loan at Memphis 901 FC, in what was an emotional season both on and off the field for the Kiwi as he battled his way back to MLS.
- MARCH: The pandemic stopped it from becoming a reality, but the Fire landing Arlo White as play-by-play announcer was a big deal. I got the inside story about how a chance meeting more than a decade ago at Thunder Dan Majerle’s bar in Phoenix laid the groundwork for Arlo signing with Chicago.
- APRIL: DaMarcus Beasley once played an entire game for the Fire, switched jerseys, and then played immediately after that for the U.S. Men’s National Team at Soldier Field. The Ironman move was largely forgotten, so I tracked down Beas to chat with him about what it was like doing Double Duty.
- AUGUST: Miguel Navarro always dreamed of coming to the United States to be a pro athlete. But as a kid growing up in Venezuela, he thought it would be baseball—not soccer—that brought him here.
- OCTOBER: When the Fire finally returned to Soldier Field, Fabian Herbers was among the team’s hottest players. I talked to him about his journey from far-western Germany to the U.S., the family bar that inspired his sense of hard work, and what it was like playing with one of Germany’s national heroes, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
- DECEMBER: Finally, just a few days ago, I wrote a little piece about what Peter Wilt and others were doing to help one of my favorite places to watch soccer in the world, Milwaukee’s Highbury Pub, survive the pandemic. It wasn’t particularly special journalism and I didn’t think many of you would read it, but it turns out the piece resonated with a lot of people. It was shared and retweeted widely, and hopefully it helped do some good to keep our favorite places in business.
Thanks to all of you who read, supported and shared our stuff this year, and a special thanks to all the other great people who wrote for us during this strange season: Ruben, TJ, Alex, Sandra, James, and Mick. With news of MLS owners invoking the force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement, the 2021 season is looking just as uncertain as 2020. Whatever happens, we’ll be there along the way to cover it.
Happy New Year, everyone.