It's not going to be an easy offseason. The retirement of a player who personifies the "Tradition, Honor, and Passion" that has become the club's motto will leave a pair of large boots to fill in terms of leadership and professionalism. While Brian McBride was universally respected as a National Team and MLS icon, no one player said Chicago Fire more than CJ Brown. As the last member of the original Fire team in 1998, Brown has been with the Fire through every year and every match of the club's existence. That fact alone is impressive, but his demeanor, representation of the club, and leadership has been even more impressive over the course of those 370 games in uniform.
Brown began considering retirement last year and decided to return in 2010 since limited playing time in 2009 was not the way he wanted to end his career. "This season was frustrating but 2004 was the same way. Last year I got to play a little but didn't play the full season. I didn't want to go out that way" said Brown via conference call on his way to Los Angeles for his final MLS trip as a player.
The physicall toll that his body has taken was the main factor in his decision to hang up his boots. After discussing options with his wife, parents, and agent Brown decided that this was the right time to move on, "I'm physically not able to keep up as much as I would like to."
Brown didn't express much regret over failing to appear in last weekend's match against DC United in order to be acknowledged by the Toyota Park crowd out of respect for the accomplishments of Brian McBride. "I'm not big on being the center of attention but I love the fans and they're one of the reasons why I've been here so long. It would have been great to do something this year, but if I come back and we do it next year that's fine" said Brown. He chose to announce his retirement after the last day of training before leaving for Los Angeles rather than detract from the moment McBride enjoyed on Saturday. "I didn't want to stand in front of cameras and give a speech like Brian so I took the easy way out by telling everybody yesterday."
Brown should be a shoe-in 2011 inductee into the Ring of Fire and admitted that he would like to pursue a coaching career in MLS as an assitant, preferably with the Fire if the situation is presented.
"Chicago has been great to me. Bob Bradley gave me an opportunity and I've been here since. The fans embraced me and they're one of the reasons I've stayed here. The organization has been great. We've had our ups and downs but they've been very good to me and I appreciate that. I want to thank everybody for embracing me and letting me play this game".
If Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, CJ Brown is Mr. Fire.