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Tuesday, April 16

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Fire Mon Aug 03 2009

Saying Goodbye

There had been thunderstorms all day the first Fire game I attended. But it was the playoffs and one of the reasons I was excited to be living in Chicago was the chance to watch the Fire. Not only did the squad featured three world class players in Peter Nowak, Hristo Stoichkov, and Lubos Kubic, but the young Americans were of a class rarely seen in MLS: Josh Wolff, DaMarcus Beasley (back when he had a whole career in front of him), future national team captain Carlos Bocanegra, Ante Razov and Chris Armas. Even role players like Jesse Marsch and Diego Gutierrez would prove to be among the best role players in the history of the league.

It rained on and off during the game, but that didn't dampen the fans spirits as the Fire dismantled New England 6-0 on their way to setting a record home winning streak. The combination of some brilliant soccer, the brisk fall weather, and fans that just wouldn't be stopped -- well I'd been to MISL games, I'd been to for the first time in America it really felt like I'd just been to a soccer game.

The Fire has been through a lot in the past nine years. They've been to Soldier Field, they've been to Naperville, they've been back to Soldier Field, and they've ended up in a place called Bridgeview. They've seen the franchise change ownership and the front office change hands Peter Wilt, to John Guppy to a guy that may or may not like soccer named Something Greeley. Between 2007 and 2008 a team that had only had two coaches in its history saw three coaching changes.

Two weeks ago, the weather couldn't have been more gorgeous for the last Fire game I attended before moving out of state for graduate school.

The Fire, despite holding first place in the Eastern Conference, have the worst home record in the league. Playing their third game in a week, the Fire fielded a team featuring the likes of Dasan Robinson, Mike Banner, and someone called Peter Lowry.

Whether it's due to that poor home record, the poorer economy, or the star attraction having been here for two seasons already, attendance has dropped 23% this year. The fans that have stuck it out through all the changes now grumble as much as they sing. I've certainly done my share of grumbling over the years. Grumpy or not, the fact that the fans taking such ownership is part of what makes the Fire, in my completely biased opinion, so unique in MLS. They can call it a soccer franchise, but it's a soccer club. And I'm going to miss it.

But sometimes you need to put aside the negativity and just enjoy the chance to watch professional soccer. There really still aren't that many places you can do that in America. Over the years I got to see US Soccer legends like Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride, Tony Sanneh, and Chris Armas on a regular basis. In addition to Nowak and Stoichkov, I got a chance to finally understand what the big deal about Cuahtemoc Blanco was, whose qualities as an entertainer I severely underestimated before he arrived in Chicago. And maybe the most rewarding thing was watching players like Logan...Pause, Rolfe, Gonzalo Segares, and Bakary Soumare transform from college kids into professionals and in some cases full international soccer players.

There have been disappointments. Some young players didn't pan out the way I'd hoped (Justin Mapp has been treading water for years and Craig Capano's now in culinary school). The team hasn't won the MLS Cup since I've lived here, though they've come painfully close. But when you follow a team it's for the ups and the downs, the good and the bad.

So, as I watched the Fire struggle through 80-something scoreless minutes against San Jose, instead of ranting about how appropriate it was that my last game would be another exercise in futility, I just thought about how I'm glad I got to be around for part of the ride. I'm also glad I had this space to add my two cents to the conversation. Maybe I just wanted to go out on a positive note no matter what. Of course, that got a whole lot easier in the last ten minutes of that game. Especially since practically the last thing I saw at Toyota Park was Blanco turning the game on its head like this:

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Andrew / August 3, 2009 9:41 PM

We'll miss you, Steve!

peter wilt / August 4, 2009 8:42 AM

Thanks for all your suppport Steve and best of luck in the future.

Ken / August 4, 2009 3:31 PM

Thanks for all your work, Steve. You made me actually pay attention to soccer! (Kidding...sort of). If you need anything from my very limited range off influence, just ask.

edhardy / August 12, 2009 5:43 AM

Thanks for all your suppport Steve and best of luck in the future.
ed hardy

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