Moratorium: Chicago Fire (1) vs. Toronto FC (~1)
So this is how CF97’s season looks to end, not with a bang but a whimper. OTF’s Brian Howe Battle chooses to wallow on a larger scale than just the most recent Fire draw.
Fall nears, and with it comes the familiar signs of autumn — brisk winds, colder shadows, the re-introduction of the dominant American sport of Football, and the beginning of the English Premiere League.
Despite a few remaining games, the Chicago Fire season is over; like you needed someone else to tell you. The Fire drew, again, against Toronto FC at home on Sunday. Fans, and at some level the team, have called it a day and are now looking toward the off season. The Fire are obviously, if not mathematically, removed from playoff contention.
After bossing the game in the first half, highlighted by Lovell Palmer’s excellent header, the old narrative took over. Some mix of a lack of will, lack of force, lack of discipline, and lack of skill contributed to a draw against the second-worst team in the league. The tie, in actuality, was a blessing as a last minute goal was waved off by a phantom penalty. If you want to wallow in that, go listen to Michael Bradley lose his shit on some other site…
In a way, the end is a relief, really.
The last few week’s soundbites have been peppered with phrases like “the final playoff push,” delivered by both players and managers. But the delivery of these platitudes were like that of a hostage video released to the media—both the speaker and the listener understand that what is being said likely isn’t true, but it is said anyway.
There is almost a sense pity as the organization fields questions with candor and positivity when the season has clearly been an enormous disappointment. But as seasons change, people take their cue to change as well.
With EPL and UEFA Champions League returning, this week is the official de-shackling of soccer fans with Major League Soccer. Even the most committed lose their interest as the standings coagulate, the sports news cycle goes full-pigskin, and back-to-back viewings of BPL and MLS games show how excruciatingly far behind the domestic game remains.
The general malaise of late-season MLS soccer fandom is Don Garber’s problem to solve, but there is no doubt that the Chicago Fire are happy to see the local “soccer conversation” being put back down in the bottom drawer along with an assortment of swim trunks, short-sleeved shirts, SPF 50, and flip-flops.
Mercifully for the Chicago Fire, this seasonal change spares them the headaches of dealing with people outside their walls again for a few months. Fans, supporters, trolls, bloggers, hell… even legitimate local media, are off to go watch and comment on more interesting things. Back in August, things were dismal but people were still talking like their voice mattered. The overused phrase on the #CF97 hashtag was “Pitchforks and Lanterns,” as if a full public outcry could force a team to be better, to play better, to do something.
Twitterers scoffed at the “call to build supporter culture in spite of the club itself,” calling it a “tall order,” and in a rare and misguided gesture of supporter chest-beating, I even made reference to The Band that Wouldn’t Die, an ESPN 30-For-30 that documented the Baltimore Colts Marching Band that refused to stop playing despite their team abandoning them.
Four weeks ago, the Men in Red had just lost 6-0 to the Seattle Sounders in the U.S. Open Cup semi-finals—a showing that would only have been more gut-wrenching if it was televised. Fans were livid. The organization was embarrassed. The loss, in conjunction with their 5-1 loss to San Jose weeks earlier, gave permission to the small but influential group of national “soccer media” to use the team as a punchline. Esteemed Men In Blazer Michael Davis mentioned that he remembered seeing them play in the 1998 finals “when they weren’t crap.” Meanwhile the guys on Du Nord Futbol Show apologized for wondering why anyone would ever want to play for a “Tire Fire.”
Let’s listen in:
(Men In Blazers 8/5/14 @ 6:05, Du Nord 8/18 at 15:05)
The team, protected from public criticism because of bigger, better, more-interesting things going on in Chicago, had been called out (almost a year ago to the day of their last debacle). The bubble had burst. The national media was on to how bad the team was.
Surely. SURELY. Now, something would be done. With no distractions available, a splash, (a Keane-like splash?) was anticipated, and Fire F.O. sold the drama that was the Jermaine Jones saga. It was doubly-dubious, then, when MLS itself foiled the Chicago’s attempt to right the ship, begging the question, “is the MLS just as disenfranchised with Chicago as we all are?”
Well… it’s amazing what a month will do. A month, and a handfull of Bears games that is.
Just a few weeks ago Fire supporters were frothing at the mouth, but now, there’s barely anything. Critics and supporters have been silenced in one giant collective shrug. Criticism of the team has been stifled, and it has been stifled by indifference. I suppose in the grieving process that this would be considered the final stage then — acceptance.
Acceptance that Toyota Park field conditions might be a fair representation of Chicago’s on-field quality.
Acceptance that the Fire, with Mike Magee agreeing to season-ending surgery this week, have also admitted that the season is over.
Acceptance that the retirement of Logan Pause means there are very few reminders left of the team’s historic beginnings.
Acceptance that the league has passed the Fire by, having witnessed Seattle’s US Open Cup Victory yesterday. (A record of four wins which they now share with the Fire, having joined the league 10 years later than them. None of Chicago’s Open Cup wins, by comparison, have occurred since 2006.)
Acceptance that fans, supporters, trolls, and even writers have pretty much given up on this team.
Anyone see that amazing Brandon Marshall one-handed catch on Sunday?
OTF Contributor Brian Howe Battle is a Chicago local and will never use the word “treble” where “triple” will suffice. Follow Brian on Twitter at @OwenGoal.