The beautiful game isn’t always beautiful. It can turn into something ugly.
When your favorite player suffers through a horrible run of form, it makes watching soccer difficult. When an entire team plays below its ability, it can be maddening for a supporter. Chicago Fire have shown just how true this is.
From May 2012 to August 2014, I wrote fairly regularly on the team for several sites. I wasn’t the best by any means, bt I like to think I did an adequate job. Covering the Fire was fun, it connected me with other supporters. As someone who was eternally far away from Chicago that was important.
Chicago was the first US soccer team I ever saw play back in 1998 in Soldier Field. I wouldn’t come back to soccer again for another ten years. When I did start paying attention to soccer again, when I did start to get really into the sport as a 32 year old, it had to be Chicago.
The moment I began to follow the team, it began its decline into irrelevance. I kept tabs on the team as it endured a year and half under Carlos de los Cobos. When Frank Klopas took over as manager, I began writing on the team. 2012 was a good season even if it ended poorly. The next season wasn’t stellar but the team just missed the playoffs. It costed Klopas his job. Thus was ushered in the reign of Frank II (Frank Yallop). Under Yallop, the team completely fell apart.
2014 saw the team enter the record books with the most draws in a Major League Soccer season. In a nineteen team league, Chicago was fifth from the bottom. There were so many matches where points were surrendered that looking at the standings, a supporter couldn’t help but be frustrated. It was death by a thousand cuts.
Frank II didn’t make it through two full seasons in Chicago. This year Yallop was relieved of his duties with only a month left in the regular season. The Fire was a last place team. It had moved beyond its middling 2014 form, but it’s inability to hold onto points was replaced with the inability to get any points. This season’s twenty losses puts the team near the top of the list of teams with the most single season losses in MLS. Chicago failed to win a single game on the road (0-5-12) and at its home turf, Toyota Park, it only managed to break even (8-1-8). It was the only team to average less than a point per game and had the worst goal differential in the league (-15).
Could the team turn its fortunes around next season? Sure. But I won’t be around to see it. I can’t stay in this relationship. I began pulling away after the 2014 season. I decided not to write on the Fire this season for several reasons. For one, I wasn’t getting paid for anything I was doing. I was a fan who never lived close enough to see the team he supported. What I wrote, I wrote because I enjoyed the team. When that joy faded, I couldn’t force myself to write about a team that was just making me sad and/or angry.
I toyed with just watching, not writing on any team. I couldn’t do it. I ended up writing for a site called Midfield Press (still unpaid) covering the second division of US and Canadian soccer, the North American Soccer League (NASL). Like all impending break-ups, I was distant and then found someone new.
I’m a Midwest boy; more specifically, I’m a Northerner. I had been flirting with Minnesota’s pro team. It was the NSC Minnesota, then Minnesota Stars, and finally Minnesota United. I soon discovered that the way this team played (and yes, its success), the atmosphere at its stadium, the fact that I could go to see them when I went home for the holidays or vacation, and how the supporters were just damn great people had won me over.
Chicago Fire were my first. We’ve outgrown each other. But I still care about the team. I want to see it be happy. I just know it can’t be happy with me and I can’t be happy with it.
I’ll still buy Patrick Nyarko jerseys and read articles from the supporter sites. I’ll still check in and watch the Fire from time to time. I love the people I’ve met while online writing about the Fire and supporting them. They’re some of the smartest and clever people I’ve met on social media. They’ve made me a better fan and sports writer.
When Minnesota United enter MLS, I will savor the matches against Chicago.