It's been a week but I'm back and better than ever. My batteries are recharged and I'm raring to go. My fire is lit.
> "The point is that soccer clubs, prompted by media and fans, are always making financially irrational decisions in an instant. They would like to think long term, but because they are in the news every day they end up fixating on the short term. An executive with an American entertainment company tells a story about his long arranged business meeting with Real Madrid. His company was hoping to build a relationship with the club. But on the day of the meeting, Real ritually sacked its manager. The usual chaos ensued. Two of the club officials scheduled to attend the meeting with the American executive did not show up. That's soccer."
> -Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in their book, Soccernomics
Pressure. It's the ultimate decision maker. It's what keeps us all on our toes. Without it we wouldn't feel the need to perform. With it we can sometimes break or - even more consequently - be forced into regrettable decisions.
Such is the nature of professional soccer. In Europe.
We all know that the American version is a whole different animal. Sure, big wigs in the offices of the 16 MLS franchises occasionally have to sweat it out, but their anxious moments are nothing compared to the fishbowl that execs/managers of Europe's top clubs operate in. Nowhere in America will you see the local soccer team making the front page day after day. You won't find millions of heartland inhabitants clamoring for a coach to get the axe. We don't live in the Midlands of England. We're not in the shadow of Milan's San Siro. Their daily soccer realities are nothing our current American soccer landscape could even touch. That is a fact, and in the short term there is no way of getting around it. Our country's lack of support is something that is often lamented by anyone that has an interest (whether it is professional or personal) in the game in the States. It allows some who occupy our airwaves (here's looking at you Jim Rome) to be dismissive of the game - which is unquestionably a shame. However, that lack of support allows American clubs to enjoy one advantage that their European cousins will never have: a lack of relative pressure from the fans - and subsequently - more of an ability to look to the long term.
The ability to look to the long term - to control one's destiny, if you will - is something that the Fire currently has within its grasp. Though the club has been one of the more successful in the league since the team's inception in 1998, this offseason the Fire has the opportunity to make changes that could revolutionize MLS. Frank Klopas is currently taking advantage of that lack of pressure, biding his time and (assumedly) doing his due diligence in the search for the Fire's next head coach. Klopas hasn't been limited to going slow while looking for the Fire's next head man though. He's said that he wants to make the Fire a more attacking team for 2010 and beyond - a complete 180 from the defensive philosophy so often employed by the Fire in past years.
But if the Fire is to fully take advantage of the relative lack of pressure the nature of MLS support currently allows them, things must advance beyond Klopas to his bosses, higher-up Javier Leon and owner Andrew Hauptman.
Those two (especially Hauptman) are the ones who have the power to really set the team up well for the future. The first step to accomplishing a trophy-laden future is to step back and let Klopas do his thing. Allow him the chance to make the team his own and see where it takes the club. I believe it would work out for the best if Klopas knows that one bad year won't end with him out of a job. A little bit of security (and a little less pressure) could go a long way for the Fire.
Another aspect that could really set the Fire up well for years to come is a better academy system. Having youth players grow up in the same system that the senior team uses would do wonders for the player transitions that happen from year to year at various positions on the field. Granted, this could only happen with a significant investment from ownership and a change in league rules on youth players, but why shouldn't the Fire try and be the change they (should be) seeking?
I won't get into the multitudes of other directions that the Fire could go in their journey to become the model MLS franchise. For now I will stress the importance of developing a concrete on-field philosophy this offseason, finding a coach who buys into that philosophy, and grooming the players so that when the Fire opens up 2010 at Red Bull Arena on March 27th, that their system works. If that system proves successful, the Fire should stick with it. If not, they should go another route. But regardless of the results, they should be patient and give their system a couple of years to develop. The nature of the 'pressure' in MLS allows them to do so and, frankly, it would be unwise to do otherwise.
*You can pick up Soccernomics at your local bookstore or [online](http://www.amazon.com/Soccernomics-Australia-Turkey-Iraq-Are-Destined/dp/1568584253). I got the book as a Christmas gift and currently can't get enough of it. It's a very informative, entertaining read that is being compared to both Freakonomics and Moneyball. If you have any interest in statistics in the game of soccer (both on and off the field) check it out.*