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Going Down in Flames

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Going Down in Flames

Fire Defense, Lovel Palmer, against Real Salt Lake

Fire Defense, Lovel Palmer, against Real Salt Lake

Leonard Cederholm

Fire Defense, Lovel Palmer, against Real Salt Lake

Leonard Cederholm

Leonard Cederholm

Fire Defense, Lovel Palmer, against Real Salt Lake

Christopher Starnawski, Staff writer

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In 1998, the Chicago Fire was revived in the form of a soccer club. The formation of the team and the signing of Piotr Nowak, Poland’s national team captain at the time, sparked soccer fever in the city of Chicago.

The ’98 Fire went on to win the Major League Soccer (MLS) cup that year becoming the first expansion team ever to do so in their inaugural season; this would be a sign of better things to come, even if for a short while. In the next ten years the Chicago Fire would win the US Open Cup four times and create a winning legacy.

Prior to the 2007 season, things started to change. The soccer team was sold to a wealthy movie producer, Andrew Hauptman, and was exceptional in the first two seasons under the ownership, reaching the playoffs both years. Ever since then, the team has struggled and began to landslide in the rankings.

The Chicago Fire and Hauptman’s honeymoon was short-lived and both parties now must find a solution to fix their failing marriage. Before 2007, if the Chicago Fire were to miss playoffs it would be viewed as a major upset as they made playoffs 90 percent of the time. In the years to follow, it became expected as their appearances dropped by 30 percent. Like the movie “ThunderPants,” a movie Hauptman produced, the team began to stink. For the past six seasons, the Fire have averaged 12th place, a position far from making playoffs. The last time the team made the playoffs was in 2012, where they lost in the first round wildcard.

A major issue with the club today is the disconnect between ownership and the fans. Many feel that Hauptman treats the fans as customers rather than family, which was what made the Fire’s success feel magical, once upon a time. Fans have also argued that the alterations to the Fire’s uniform, which was made by the ownership, is disgraceful. When Hauptman bought the team, the electronics store, “Best Buy,” was featured on the iconic front white stripe of the team’s jersey instead of “Fire”. The team’s uniform went through a complete redesign prior to the 2012 season with Quaker as the new sponsor of the Fire. This is a symbolic transformation, as the Chicago Fire has become a shadow of the feared team they once were.

The team started the 2015 season by losing three games straight, a first in the franchise’s history. One bright spot to take away is that the Fire has more wins so far this season than they did all last year. Reports surfaced in late August suggesting that the Chicago Fire’s coach, Frank Yallop, doesn’t have the players’ respect and that his coaching style is outdated. Yallop has won two MLS cups and was named MLS Coach of The Year in 2001. Since then, there hasn’t been much to praise, especially the past two seasons with the Fire.

The Chicago Fire is currently the worst team in Major League Soccer, and playing in the worst division. It’s safe to say the fans are tired of watching their favorite team get burned. It is worth noting that the team is the sixth most profitable in the MLS yet their finances are in the red, a sign of mismanagement. Hauptman has been booed loudly during games in the past, but his response has come via in open letters damning their opinion. It’s apparent that Hauptman’s ownership has been the Chicago Fire’s darkest timeline. If Hauptman remains the owner following this season, he needs to repair the relationship between the club and its fans. The Chicago Fire is dying. The relationship must be repaired before it’s extinguished.

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Going Down in Flames