Cia
|

The Chicago Fire Cannot Lose

“If a tree falls down in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

“If a soccer team loses a game and no one actually gives a damn, did they actually lose?”

The Chicago Fire, in actuality, have lost plenty of games already this season. They’ve lost eight of their 17 matches, and five of those losses came at home. These results put them in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, otherwise known as second-to-last.

It’s been another dreadful start to a campaign, and there’s not much hope that things will turn around any time soon.

However, there’s an argument to be made that the club has not actually lost at all.

Chicago Fire: Unrelenting Parity

Chicago is fortunate enough to be in Major League Soccer, a league that prides itself on it’s parity.

There’s been nine different winners of MLS Cup over the course of the last 11 years. The league also utilises a playoff system, which allows teams to get away with being inconsistent for most of the year before locking in when it matters most. They can be worse than just inconsistent, as the East sees a remarkable 9 teams out of 15 make the postseason.

Look at the Fire in the standings. They only have three wins to their name at the midway point of the season, and they’re four points away from a playoff spot. That’s not a daunting margin at all, and one good run would return them to the postseason picture.

Those runs are another big part of MLS. Almost every team goes on some sort of streak at some point. The parity means there aren’t many clear-cut favourites going into every game, and a few good bounces could easily lead to a string of wins. Even the worst Chicago teams have put victories together in years past, usually in like July for some reason.

That’s only easier to pull off thanks to the summer transfer window. When European teams make their signings in the summer, they’ve got to wait for the upcoming campaign to start before those new players can make an impact.

Since MLS has their season go from March to December, teams can bring in a big-name that turns around their entire year. Olivier Giroud has already announced a move to LAFC, while many Fire fans will remember how important Jermaine Jones was for the New England Revolution.

There’s also the fact that there’s no promotion or relegation, which prevents a bad season from ever becoming disastrous, but there’s been plenty written about promotion/relegation and American soccer already.

All of this means that the Fire don’t really have to care about most of their games, especially at the start of the season. They can afford to drop plenty of points early on, and they’ll still have a sizable margin for error. They just need one good run of form or one marquee signing in the summer to make the playoffs, and then who knows what’ll happen from there?

See also  Why Are Northern English Football Clubs Declining? How Have Some Resisted This Trend?

Chicago Style

Then again, that whole spiel is true for every team in MLS. They can all get away with apathy if they want to.

Chicago’s a special case. They especially don’t care about winning games, and they don’t have to.

They have not won a single playoff game since 2009, and they’ve had one playoff match in that time. You would think that would serve as an incredible motivation to turn things around, but it instead has led to expectations falling off of a cliff.

The Fire have grown comfortable with mediocrity. Their goal every year is just to make the postseason, and even if they fail to achieve that, it doesn’t really matter. Sporting Director Georg Heitz missed the playoffs in four straight campaigns, and he was rewarded with a contract extension in the following offseason.

It was a similar story for head coach Frank Klopas, who was given the permanent job this past winter. The fact that he’s still in charge this campaign is surprising, as his team made a slow start, and then they went on a nine-match winless run, including five losses and four consecutive games where they failed to score at home.

Klopas has stuck around, but it doesn’t feel like that’s because of his own efforts. It seems like the club has thrown him into a permanent-interim role, as ironic as that sounds. There’s no one Chicago can get that they feel is better right now, so they’ll let their club legend take the lumps until someone else is available. They’d rather be pretty bad with Klopas than go through the work in firing him and taking a risk on someone new.

Usually one of the main issues of losing games in soccer is the potential risk of relegation, which the Fire never have to worry about, but it’s bigger than that. They’re usually not even bad enough to be one of the teams that would hypothetically get sent down a division.

The bigger risk would be losing your supporters. It’s a simple enough presence. If a team loses enough and it’s clear they’re not really bothered about winning, people will stop going to their games. That’s different from fans sticking by a bad team that’s trying their best; it’s abandoning a team that’s abandoned them.

Chicago doesn’t have to worry about that either, though, and that’s the big reason why they cannot truly lose.

A Nice Evening

If Fire fans were ever going to give up on their team, it would’ve been this past offseason when the aforementioned Heitz and Klopas were given extensions. The white flag was being waved right then and there, and it was the perfect opportunity for supporters to finally save their own mental health. Even the most hopeful fans, who maybe thought the two could somehow turn things around, would bail after the predictably poor start.

See also  Benjamin Sesko: The Slovenian Sensation Attracting Premier League Teams

Right?

Nope.

“In the Netherlands, you have real fans who go home angry when their favourite team loses. For fans here in America, their commitment is the most important part, but besides that, people come here to have a nice evening and to be entertained.”

Those are the words of former Chicago attacker Michael De Leeuw, and to a certain extent, he was right. Most people at Soldier Field on gameday aren’t particularly bothered with what the final score is, and that’s on two fronts.

The first group is the fans who have supported the Fire for as long as they can remember. They’ve been here long enough, so sticking around for a little while longer isn’t going to kill them. They come to every game hoping to see a win, but they’ve learned not to expect them and to let a bad result negatively impact their lives.

Supporters are going to have fun, no matter what. I went to a match for a friend’s birthday, and the experience at the pregame tailgate was infinitely more fun than the contest. There’s a real community atmosphere at Fire games, and it’s more akin to hanging out with friends than going to a sporting contest.

Chicago’s faithful have also gotten really good at making the most of what little they’re given. They’ll always have something cool to distract themselves from the larger issues at hand. Hey, look! Brian Gutiérrez and Chris Brady are really good and they are really young! Designated player Hugo Cuypers is actually scoring goals! Georgios Κoutsias tucked in his jersey again, and they’re making t-shirts about it!

There’s also the potential for a miracle. Imagine being a fan who endures years of awful results, decides to stop going, and suddenly the team fixes everything. There’s a real fear of finally missing out on the good times when they do come around.

Let’s just say that a day comes when supporters finally turn their backs on the club. That actually wouldn’t affect the Fire too much, as they’ve still got the second group that’ll be there no matter what.

Those are all the families at the stadium. Chicago is incredibly lucky that they are in Chicago, as there’s a countless number of parents and kids who could go to the stadium on any given day. Will they come back? Probably not, but they don’t need to. Someone else will take their place.

Soldier Field is right off the lake, which makes it easy to visit for a family that’s spending the day in the city and wants to do stuff before or after the contest. The kids get to experience what’s likely their first sporting event, and there’s plenty of stuff to do in the stadium for them. Meeting club mascot Sparky will end up being their highlight of the night, not a well-taken finish into the bottom corner.

See also  England At EURO 2024: A Familiar Dilemma

Add in some food and drinks plus the parking they had to pay, and you’ve got a decent chunk of change flying into the Fire’s pockets. They’re not going to complain about the product on the field, either. Ownership would much rather have a family of four that knows nothing in the stands than a pair of really critical fans.

Kellyn Acosta #23 of Chicago Fire FC celebrate
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—MARCH 16: Kellyn Acosta #23 of Chicago Fire FC celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against CF Montréal in stoppage time of the second half at Soldier Field on March 16, 2024, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

So De Leeuw was right about how many attendees aren’t bothered about the final result, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing.

Sure, it would be nice to see a stadium packed with passionate fans who are incredibly invested in what happens over the course of the 90 minutes. They’d hold the club accountable, and if the team continued to lose, they’d simply stop showing up, leaving the venue empty.

On the other hand, who gives a damn?

Who cares what kind of people are at the stadium? Who cares if they are supporting the team or simply there to have fun? Go hang out with your friends, go have a hot dog or two or three. Go walk around the beautiful lakefront. Enjoy the weather outside when it’s nice.

If people are having a good time, fair play to them.

Chicago’s going to be bad anyway. They’ve clearly shown that their focus isn’t on winning, especially in the short term. They know they’ll have butts in seats, and they know they’ll stay in MLS no matter what happens. Anyone who actually cared about wins and losses likely stopped showing up a while ago.

Going to a Fire game and trying to cheer them on to a win? That’s a pointless endeavour.

Going to a Fire game to do anything except actually worry about the action on the field? I’m not going to judge you.

Dreamland?

All things considered, Chicago’s made out like bandits in this.

If things go well, they can say they always knew what they were doing after all. If not, they can always try again next season, and the season after that, and the season after that.

What does this mean for the future? It doesn’t even matter; enjoy the fun moments while they’re here. There are so many events to celebrate, no matter how nonsensical they are. One of these years, the Fire will actually be good, so it’s only a matter of time until they fluke their way into at least one relatively successful year.

Just don’t actually go to games and get annoyed if Chicago loses. If you do that, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

About The Author

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply