Chicago Fire can change its course with few moves

By Michal Dwojak, Assistant sports editor

There are many different things that people are obsessed with.

The latest Apple product, cat pictures and gossip to name a few examples.

My obsession? Chicago sports. It’s essential for me to know how all my favorite teams — the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox — are doing every time I get a chance to look at my phone or log onto a computer.

But it wasn’t always like that. I didn’t have any favorite teams as a little kid. I wasn’t really exposed to my favorite Chicago sports teams, as both my parents had no interest in them. But I started playing basketball in the fourth grade and realized how cool sports could be.

Before all of that happened, though, there was one team that caught my attention: the Chicago Fire. My dad is from Poland, where nearly everyone follows soccer. The club was founded in 1997 and reached out to the different Chicago communities by bringing in players from around the world, including from Poland.

My dad would turn on the game whenever the team played on TV and would keep up with the club on the radio. We would go for a few games and although we weren’t obsessed, we knew how the team did.

As I keep up with my favorite teams now, I’ll take a glance at how the Fire are doing. When I do so, I see things aren’t the way they used to be.

Today’s Chicago Fire pales in comparison to the club at its beginning. In the club’s first year, it won the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup, a feat difficult for any club, let alone a club in its first year of existence. The Fire would win three more U.S. Open Cups, a Supporter’s Shield (the award given to the team with the best regular season record) and appear in two more MLS Cup Finals.

The Fire finished with a 6-10-18 record this year and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. When the Fire did make the playoffs in 2012, they were knocked out in the first round by the Houston Dynamo.

The team has not bounced back since the club’s second head coach, Dave Sarachan, was fired in June of 2007. Since then, the club has had five head coaches and little success.

Despite the doom and gloom I’m throwing out there, this franchise can be resurrected. The first key is finding a new general manager. Head coach Frank Yallop was hired in October of last year and was given the title of director of soccer operations in addition to his coaching duties. Although he has brought in the youth, he has not been able to bring the veteran players necessary to spur the team back to glory. 

It’s not all Yallop’s fault, though. The Fire missed out on U.S. Men’s National Team star Jermaine Jones when a controversial blind draw resulted with Jones landing with the New England Revolution instead of the Fire. Jones has turned it around for the Revolution, who were about as good as the Fire at the time and who are now in the playoffs. Had Jones been properly awarded to the Fire, they might be in a different position.

The Fire’s new general manager will need to build upon the foundation Yallop has built. The team is filled with young stars, including 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee, now it’s time to get some veterans. Sporting Kansas City built a solid foundation when it signed U.S. national team players Graham Zusi and Matt Besler in 2013 — the team would go on to win the MLS Cup that year.

If a new general manager signed a few national players or even managed to convince a star from one of the leagues in England to come to Chicago, then this team could be a contender within the next few years.

Yallop should be able to coach this team to success, but for now, it’s a new general manager’s job to bring in the right people. If he does so, maybe the Fire will be the next team on my list of obsessions.

Michal is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @mdwojak94