Fire On The Hot Seat
On Saturday the Fire opens what should be its most important stretch of the season thus far, and playoff implications and advancement in the U.S. Open Cup are only the half of it. Dave Sarachan's job may be on the line here, and three games in five days should tell a lot.
Just as the previous five games already have.
After christening Toyota Park with a tie followed by three wins, the Fire has now gone five consecutive home matches without a victory. (Three losses and two ties.) This is - how do you say in the biz? - unnaceptable. Completely unacceptable. Only the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference has, thankfully, prevented the Fire from plummeting down the standings. The partnership of Sarachan on the sideline and John Guppy running things behind the curtain could, and should, come under major scrutiny if this team doesn't start earning max points at home. I hate to say it, but things are beginning to feel very Cubs-like. I don't like the vibes in the air.
Granted, with MLS's ludicrous playoff system in which it's nearly impossible to miss the postseason, these upcoming games lack a bit of the meaning they should (and could) have, but really, that's beside the point. The fact that the Fire can, essentially, back into the playoffs if it comes to that should not deter from the fact that the team's play has been disappointing. (MLS's unimaginative playoff system is an entire discussion of its own for another time.)
To be fair, the Fire recently led both conference leaders, Dallas and DC, in the second half before dooming itself with boneheaded substitutions and fouls, so I suppose that's a positive to build on. I mean, they could have played worse. But that's not saying much.
So here it is...
Saturday vs. Chivas. The Fire welcomes back Bob Bradley and will attempt to avenge a loss earlier this season in Los Angeles in what was one of the ugliest and most tedious games you'll ever see. Two hours of my life I'll never gat back.
Monday vs Kansas City. This is the rain-induced makeup game with the Wizards in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. The winner moves onto the quarterfinals. These teams met in the 2004 final.
Wednesday vs Kansas City. I hope the Wizards enjoy Chicago - and who wouldn't? - because only two days later the two teams will meet again in a regular season matchup.
At this moment in time there are many things about Guppy, and his vision for the Fire, that are both aggravating and frightening me to no end. Attendance at the new stadium has been sadly and surprisingly disappointing and the roster is aging with very few youngsters looking capable of shouldering the load in the near future. Chris Armas, Zach Thornton and Diego Gutierrez have been great for the franchise, but each is approaching his mid-30s and a changing of the guard is a necessity, especially if these guys can no longer supply wins at home. The fact that Guppy is leading the Fire into this uneasy immediate future, and not Peter Wilt, is, as I said, frightening. For the moment, however, I'm trying to remain positive. These three quick home dates are a perfect opportunity for the Fire to set its season in the right direction as we hit the final stretch.
Incidentally, none of the three games will be televised here in Chicago. How dumb is this? Again, I'm looking squarely at Guppy for this heinous mistake. Games - all games - were always aired under Wilt. It's what major league franchises do. Listen, the fact that these key games will go largely unnoticed in Chicagoland to both existing fans and potentially new fans alike (unless they actually make it out to Toyota Park) is beyond maddening. This is not how you get your product out there. This is not how you work the public. It just isn't. Guppy has some explaining to do. If you're not going flaunt your team and its shiny new stadium, then don't wonder why attendance numbers are lagging.
Hell, even the most diehard of fans will have an extremely difficult time making it to three games in five days. You just can't expect that from your fan base. It's absurd. Horrible marketing. Horrible vision. I'll do my best to make it out, but I live fifteen minutes from the stadium. And I'm single. I don't have kids. How can you expect families to keep up? You can't. And when they don't, they can't at least turn on the telly and check the team out?
And again, my all-encompassing anti-Guppy rant is brewing. There is so much, both on and off the field, that is bugging me. But, as I said, I'm remaining positive over the next several days in hopes that the Fire rekindles some of the magic that made it such a successful and loveable franchise in years past under Wilt.
Here we go now.