Fire notebook - reserves, expansion, tv, radio, and a whole lot more

The Fire Reserves played their first match of the season yesterday. A 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls featured a mix of bench players and Fire Academy products. Giuseppe Gentile scored a brace to provide the difference. Victor Pineda played ninety minutes and his brother Mauricio also got into the match.

Grant Lillard, Collin Fernandez, and Qudus Lawal were the other Academy players getting playing time in this one. Jacob Bushue, a defender from Indiana University who went undrafted in January was a guest player.

Fire line-up: Kyle Reynish; Marco Franco, Patrick Ianni, Grant Lillard, Jacob Bushue (Mauricio Pineda* 68’); Logan Pause, Chris Ritter, Victor Pineda, Giuseppe Gentile, Collin Fernandez, Juan Luis Anangono (Qudus Lawal* 64’) Subs not used: Patrick Nyarko, Alec Kann

Notes and more notes

Fire owner Andrew Hauptman presided over the club's annual early season media gathering last Thursday and covered a wide range of topics. The focus of the event this year placed an emphasis on the club's vision for establishing a greater footprint in the Chicago market. Involvement in the community and grass roots building through the academy and eventually the new Chicago Fire Soccer Center on the near north side will play a big part in hopefully making the club more visible. A revamped marketing campaign should also make more people aware of soccer in Chicago via English and Spanish language platforms.

Hauptman was joined by COO Atul Khosla and the majority of technical staff - Frank Yallop, Brian Bliss, CJ Brown, and Clint Mathis fielded a variety of questions ranging from line up choices to marketing to MLS expansion.

One of the questions I posed involved the club's plans to address the need to reinvigorate long time supporters who have expressed concerns and reacted negatively to issues like "the editorial" and other perceived slights. “We’re in a constant process of connecting and reconnecting with our fan base so I’d like to think we’re putting our best foot forward and being communicative and do our best,"' said Hauptman. With regard to relating better to supporter concerns Khosla also chimed in. “We’re trying to take a step back and look at the fan base that’s here and the fan base we want to bring in. What you’re seeing here is a long term vision of how we want to grow the fan base and hopefully over the course of doing that we’re going to invigorate the one that’s currently there. The fan base has been asking for a radio show and we've done that this year. They've asked about being on main (stream) media in town from a tv perspective, we weren't there two years but we’re there now. They've also (told us) that the club needs to market itself and we are. My thoughts are that through those actions we are growing the fan base and also invigorating the ones that have been with the club and have provided some very good feedback for us over the years. We've really taken that into account," he said.

“We have to pick and choose our spots we can’t be everywhere for every single issue that’s raised. My north star is (based on) whether we can look in the mirror at the end of the day and ask ourselves if we’re trying to do right and is our intention pure. Do we care deeply about this club and are we trying to make the fans proud? We care a lot about them (and what they think), it’s not like we’re dismissive of any of it. Everything is with an eye towards inspiring the fans," added Hauptman.

Along those lines the Fire owner also acknowledged that errors on and off the field over the last several years has led to dissatisfaction among the core fan base. One of those issues has been a lack of clarity in the direction of the club. “There’s a natural tendency in any sport where supporters start to feel that (lack of clarity) and over time it can bottle up. We’re not delusional about that," he said.

In terms of the league's immediate future and how expansion will affect the Fire, Hauptman said that MLS has entertained the prospect of adding another club in the Midwest thereby providing a more natural rivalry for Chicago. Several potential locations have been discussed although those cities weren't named. New York City FC, Orland City, and Miami would leave the league two short of Don Garber's apparent goal of 24 clubs and numerous applicants are vying for those spots.

Here are a few more notes from the day:

  • Construction will start on the new Chicago Fire Soccer Center this summer. The facility will eventually be utilized by the first team for training during preseason and inclement weather days.
  • Aron Hyde has been called up as a goalkeeper’s coach for the US Men's National Team. He will join the US for their next match on April 2 against Mexico.
  • The Fire picked the Portland match over Chivas USA for the first My50 game based on atmosphere and presentation. The remaining matches on the schedule will all be covered with English language television broadcasts.
  • Cap room was again a topic with Yallop and Bliss reiterating the club's current position. The Fire don’t have much room cap-wise. “We’re up against it,” said Yallop. Bliss also indicated that trading Austin Berry was a move made to get cap compliant. The team is cap compliant with little or no room but it doesn’t preclude them from making moves to clear space. The amount of players with guaranteed contracts heading into 2013 limited their options.
  • The club is also still exploring and reviewing different options for the new reserve league set up that will be implemented in 2015. The current structure is making way for a new program intended to provide more valuable playing time for young players and reserves. “We’ve had some discussions in Tucson with the Phoenix group. There’s an opening there to work with them. There’s a group out of Milwaukee that would like to re-start with a USL franchise and there’s a potential to be a partner with them or an affiliation is still on the table,” said Bliss. They are also continuing to have discussions with other groups that are looking to be a part of USL in the Midwest in 2015. “More than likely it will be like the model that a lot of other teams have that will look like a partnership or affiliation as opposed to an ownership," he added.

Filed under: 2014 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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  • MSP-St.Paul or St. Louis are great soccer towns and would support teams. I remember going to Minn Kicks games back in the 80s that were well attended.

    On another point.. it must be weird for a guy like Logan Pause to be playing in a game by the parking lot with a bunch of kids and a guest player. The not so glamorous side of pro soccer, I guess.

  • Khosla said: "What you’re seeing here is a long term vision of how we want to grow the fan base and hopefully over the course of doing that we’re going to invigorate the one that’s currently there."

    Nice job to invigorate the current fan base by tossing Fire tradition out the window with those new jerseys. Also, great decision to change to blue shorts. We really are The Men in Red, aren't we?

    Now that Lovie Smith is no longer around, Khosla can take over as the biggest liar in Chicago sports.

  • In reply to StaryByk3:

    I'm pretty sure they know most of the core fan base isn't happy with the new uniforms.

  • How many people ask you, "where do the Fire play?" I swear if people were informed about where the stadium is and how to get there, they would get more fans in the seats. I think the stadium's location is not an easy sell and the beer buses help, but those buses will not fill the stadium. It's not the Fire's fault that public transportation here is awful and Chicago traffic is even worse. I feel bad for Bridgeview because I actually really like Toyota Park. It's a great little stadium. It's a conundrum I would not want to have to deal with because building another stadium and abandoning Toyota Park is probably out of the question, but the location for most people is not good.

  • In reply to Krasov:

    I get the stadium issue but if the team is winning and consistent there won't be a problem with people finding it. I keep referring back to the playoff games in 2009. Those games were sold out and electric. The atmosphere in the park for those games was better than any live sporting event I've ever been to and I was lucky enough to attend Bulls playoff games during the Jordan era.
    If the team is winning people will get there. If they can recreate that atmosphere people will come back. Of course, winning is key to all of that.

    And yes...I do get that question a lot. ;)

  • In reply to Krasov:

    The stadium had no problem filling up when Blanco was here and when the team was exciting and winning games. Toyota Park is what 20 minutes from the city? From the city, you take 55 south to Harlem. Cant get much easier than that to get there. If we were playing at Soldier Field, would we be getting 35k a game? The answer is no. Has anyone said "I had tickets to the game but couldnt find the stadium." If people want to go to the game, they will go to the game. It really is as simple as that.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Totally agree. The issues with lack of public transportation access, 12 miles from downtown, yadda yadda, really crop up when the team isn't winning and interest is at lower levels.

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    In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Getting 'to' the stadium is not that bad (if you have a car) but getting out has been terrible the past few years. Ever since the 71st debacle and them converting the west parking lot to not allow general parking I've disliked going to/from games.

    I recall a packed stadium many times during Blanco's reign, although a few times I think I was the only guy speaking English in my section. That demographic has wandered a bit since he, Pardo, Pappa, have departed. Embracing the Latin population is what is needed to really grow the team's popularity here. This isn't the Pacific NW where you can jam 30,000 hipsters into a stadium on a weekly basis. Heck, my cousin grew up in Chicago and didn't know how to spell 'soccer' and is a die-hard Bears/Cubs fan. Since moving to Portland a few years ago he's been going to sold-out Timbers games with his scraggly beard and locally-hopped IPAs.

  • In reply to Jeff S:

    haha, this is funny. portland also only has the trailblazers and the stadium is beautifully located. and their stadium is beautiful. all things working against the fire.

  • In reply to Tweaky:

    The 71st underpass is complete and open to traffic now.....so there's that.

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    In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Yes, excited about that (finally!). Not sure if the local police will still have that terrible exit strategy though that forces traffic in all the wrong directions.

  • Agreed, when the team starts winning, people will find the park.
    It's not the easiest place to find but not that difficult. Getting to Naperville was more problematical. Opening up 71st. St. will be a vast improvement this season.
    Still miss the lakefront .

  • The general treatment of the team by the traditional media is still hit or miss. There was no mention of the home opener whatsoever on Comcast Sport Central on Sunday night. On WGN the next morning the 1-1 score was tossed as a throwaway after the "real" sports news. Luckily, I discovered Hawks playoff tickets were soon to go on sale. I don't know what the F.O. can do about that but it is pitiful.

  • In reply to Doug:

    That's the problem with traditional media and soccer coverage. They don't think their audience wants to hear about soccer and the soccer audience won't go to traditional media for soccer coverage since they know it won't be treated seriously by the main players. It will need to grow organically, with more casual fans gaining interest and the core fan base expanding.
    WGN didn't care about the Hawks ten years ago, in fact nobody did. The sweater wearing band wagon jumpers that were Bulls "fans" in the 90's are now the Hawks "fans" of the current era. The Hawks caught a perfect storm of events that led to their resurgence but it's all anchored by winning. The Fire have to start with that.

  • Can I ask why people really care whether WGN or Comcast Sportsnet mention the Fire or not?

    If national ratings are any indication, Liga MX is probably more popular in Chicago than any other soccer league and you won't likely see mention of those games, either on WGN or Comcast SportsNet. Nationally, Liga MX games outperform NBA and NHL routinely.

    It seems unrealistic to expect a lot of coverage when the viewership numbers just aren't there.

  • In reply to Roti2000:

    Unfortunately, this is probably not too far from true.

  • In reply to Roti2000:

    I guess it comes down to what drives what. Sure, if there was some organic explosion of interest that had Toyota Park packed to the gills each week, there might be some recognition. But, as Guillermo mentions above, the 'Hawks went from page 4 news to Hawkeytown practically overnight and it was because WGN got the broadcast rights and the Trib made them the top story. Of course the Stanley Cup runs helped. But, I doubt playoff success like that for the Fire would lead to them being water cooler talk. Yes. Soccer fans now have ways to get news and interact. And the incidents of unabashed soccer knocking have become passe. But, a Fire game is not going to be an event until their footprint among your run-of-the-mill bystander is a lot larger than it is now. I suppose some enjoy the experience of being part of the niche experience but not me. When Patrick Kane gets hurt, I want comparisons made to Derrick Rose AND Mike Magee. Injured MVP's of our local sports teams. It's coming I know. But not fast enough for me.

  • In reply to Doug:

    it'll likely take a generation or so of kids growing up with the Fire to really see a sea change with the fire and it's reputation and place in the city's sports landscape. winning would/will help in the short-term, but to really solidify itself on the levels of the bulls and hawks will take decades, imo.

  • In reply to Drew:

    The generational theory is certainly something I believe in. With the league now reaching 18 years old we finally have kids growing up with a top flight league in their back yards. Some of the young fans that have grown up with the league are now starting their own families and creating new fans that follow the teams that dad is following. It's going to take a while, but like you said the Bulls and Hawks have had decades to cultivate this.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I agree with this as well. I am in my 40s and got into soccer primarily through the Sting. Totally remember my parents taking us to games at Wrigley and Comiskey!

    It was hard to follow soccer once the NASL went under, as the indoor game didn't do it for me.

    But I lived in Mexico for a year in the early 90s, learned Spanish, and came back a renewed fan of the game. By that time you could follow the Mexican league pretty easily on TV here in the states--the MLS, not so much.

    Of course, now, with MLS getting better and easier to follow, it is also easier to follow all the top European leagues.

    This is going to be hard for MLS because it seems like a lot of teams are strong within their markets, but the national profile of the league is less so and now there is more competition. Where a Bear fan may watch a non-Bear NFL game as a neutral, this is less the case for MLS. One reason, of course, is that there are so few national telecasts of MLS and the other reason is that there are just waaay to many other options for soccer fans.

  • From a marketing standpoint, I would say it's gotten much better and more cohesive this past year than in the prior 3 (when I really started following the team.)

    As for mistakes, I see things having gone from "stonewall" to "we'll say 'mea culpa' when we mess up, but essentially we're still doing it our way."

    They will probably be successful in expanding the Fire identity into the broader population, but it seems that in the process, the identity they are using is not the same identity as we've grown up with. I think the away kit next year will be the nail in the coffin until "going retro" is cool or AH exits ownership.

    On this note, I'd like to quote the article in Boston Magazine online giving a very honest look at the Krafts as owners: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2014/03/25/bob-kraft-worst-owner-new-england-revolution/

    "Having this solid supporters’ group is particularly crucial because, more than most, soccer is a sport that feeds off its crowd. Unlike other, TV-commercial-friendly American sports, the games last for two 45-minute halves with no breaks or timeouts, and supporters’ groups spend that entire time on their feet, singing songs and coordinated chants that celebrate their team, poking fun at opposing players, and calling the ref a bastard. They set the tone for the whole stadium, and really the whole fan base."

    The AH regime is not in sync with the Chicago supporters.

    The rift grows, if you ask me.

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    The secondary kit next season will probably make some people happy.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    have you seen a preview already???

  • In reply to Drew:

    Call it an educated guess.
    We did get a sneak peek at the mock up for this year's third kit and I can say it actually didn't look too bad for a third jersey. We'll see what the final version looks like.

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    Regarding Hawks popularity I also attribute a portion of the general rise in the popularity of hockey to ubiquitous high definition television. You just couldn't see the damn puck before improved resolution and frame rate came to broadcast TV.

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    I saw the recent post concerning a possible USL Pro affiliate for the Fire, with Phoenix and Milwaukee named as specific options. Frankly, I hope they choose Milwaukee. The proximity and previous success with an outdoor team make it an ideal location. And for a metro area of our size, there's no question we can easily support a pro team. There's also a supporters group, Milwaukee outdoor pro soccer alliance, with more than 700 fans on Facebook that is also actively signing up supporters for a pro team. I hope the Fire takes a strong look at Milwaukee!

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