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Fire Sat May 24 2008

We Don't Like New York

It used to be hard to figure out which rival MLS team to hate the most. We’ve tried with our nearest rivals, Columbus, but it’s hard to take them seriously. There was the “Brimstone Cup” with the Dallas Burn, but they changed their name, left our conference and that whole thing seemed to mostly take place over internet messageboards anyway. And then there was New England, which stopped being fun the fifth time they knocked us out of the playoffs.

But we’ve been going about it all wrong. Sometimes when you're really looking to hate a soccer team, you wake up after a rotten offseason and find it’s been staring you in the face the whole time. Of course I'm talking about this Sunday's opponents, the New York Red Bulls. In addition to the fact that they’re a New York (er, make that New Jersey) sports team, there's plenty not to like about the New York Red Bulls. Let's count the ways.

1. Juan Carlos Osorio
Last season’s savior went to this season’s villain when the former Fire coach ditched the team after just a few months in charge and a level of success that seems pretty moderate in retrospect. That he left after such a short time period for a conference rival makes most Fire fans think of him as pretty untrustworthy. The fact that one of his last acts as coach was to leave Ivan Guerrero, the Fire’s most consistent player, unprotected in the expansion draft makes him outright shady.

2. Wilman Conde/Lider Marmol Situation
If anyone would have reason not to trust Juan Carlos Osorio, it’s Chicago Fire defender Wilman Conde, who Osorio brought over from his club in Columbia. Instead, Conde made some ill-chosen remarks to the media about wanting to follow Osorio to New York, which put him in the doghouse with Fire players and management when that trade never happened.

While all this was going on, Juan Carlos Osorio and New York brought in a young Paraguayan defensive midfielder on trial. The only problem was, it was the same young Paraguayan defensive midfielder the Fire had claimed the rights to under Juan Carlos Osorio last season. Although they couldn’t come to terms on a contract, the Fire retained the right of first refusal should he try to sign with the league and play for another team. More wrangling between the two clubs happened, and Lider Marmol is now a member of the Chicago Fire.

At this point both players just want to play, regardless of where. In Wilman Conde’s case in particular, a strong performance on Sunday would do a lot more to bring him back to the fold than an apology during the team meal ever could.

3. They Somehow Think We’re the Bad Guys In All This
It’s not just that people have left or want to leave Chicago for New York. This city’s used to that. The thing that gets me about New York’s attitude is that they expect the Fire to simply let it happen. We’re somehow bad guys for not letting players we have rights to simply walk away. Our new owner, Andrew Hauptman, by holding a grudge against a coach that left him just weeks after stating his commitment to the Fire, is somehow viewed as being petty. He’s not. He’s being a competitor. I’d frankly be worried about a new owner that didn’t hold Osorio’s defection against New York.

There’s been a feeling in this league since it started that in order for it to really grab hold of a mainstream American audience, New York would have to have a strong team. In the early days of the league, when the Anschuntz Entertainment Group owned almost all the teams (including both Chicago and New York), there were a lot of attempts to strengthen New York, often by bending the league’s own rules. That people somehow expect the Fire to just roll over for New York now seems to show that some of that thinking is still left over.

But New York and Chicago have different owners now. They aren’t all in it together to promote the sport of soccer in this country. They’re in it to build the strongest team in the league. And all the animosity that’s been building between them means when the teams play on Sunday, we’ll be seeing two teams that take the game a lot more serious than a usual run of the mill regular season MLS game. And that’s the thing that’s really going to help the league in the long run.

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