In November, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons - affectionately known as the "Sports Guy" - published *The Book of Basketball* with one goal in mind: to answer every question that could ever be posed about the NBA. One of those questions deals with what Simmons calls "The Secret." Simmons learns of the "secret" on the deck of a Vegas topless pool, where he and Isaiah Thomas (the Hall of Fame point guard and former GM who was a longtime object of barbs in Simmons's columns) are hashing out their differences. After each gets over an initial stage of awkwardness, they begin discussing Thomas's playing career, leading to the former Pistons star dropping some knowledge on the "Sports Guy":
"The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball."
Thomas's point is that basketball is about chemistry and how teammates get along (not really much of a secret there...). The same could be said of soccer. In both sports, short-term success can be achieved through individual brilliance (see a free kick goal or a player scoring 50 points in a game) but more than that is needed in the long run. Simmons elaborates: > These teams were loaded with talented players, yes, but that's not the only reason they won. They won because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics, and valued winning over everything else. They won because their best players sacrificed to make everyone else happy. They won as long as everyone remained on the same page. By that same token, they lost if any of those factors weren't in place.
> -Bill Simmons in his book, *The Book of Basketball*
After reading that passage, I began to think about whether or not the 2009 Fire possessed Simmons's prerequisites for winning. Did the players like each other? Did they know (and willingly perform) their roles? Did they ignore stats? The short answer is of course no. Though last year's version of the Fire seemed to get along fine with one another (for the most part anyway...) I thought that there was a lack of understanding of each player's role. Much of this had to do with Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
Blanco, who is now with Mexican club Veracruz, was somewhat of a square peg in a round hole for the Fire last season. Don't get me wrong, Blanco put up great numbers (five goals and eight assists in 21 league games), it was just his that his style of play never really meshed with the team. Specifically, Blanco was too much of an individual player. His consistent dalliances on the ball (which slowed the attack and allowed opposing defenses time to track back and get in position) didn't fit with the rest of the style of the rest of the team which - for the most part - was to attack with passes. Blanco's style of play did work well from time to time (after all, even at the age of 36 Blanco still has tremendous skill) but the fact that it was a different style than the one the rest of the team employed directly prohibited the Fire from establishing an offensive identity - something that a team needs if it wants to win a championship.
In terms of what I'll call Simmons's "qualifications for winning," the individuals of the 2009 Chicago Fire didn't seem to understand their roles all that well. Maybe those roles were never clearly defined. Maybe they were. Regardless, the Fire needs to create a system where every player knows their role. Without such a system in place, a championship in 2010 would be impossible to achieve. And that's no secret.