This was a piece that I wrote for KICK (at the time known as KickTV), about my love for the Chicago Fire soccer team.
My final piece for Gapers Block was one taking a look at the positive moves made by the Chicago Fire.
Over the past month I spent several weeks doing my legal duty to the county of Cook, serving as a member of a grand jury, and it got me thinking about the power of nostalgia. Moreover—not to put too fine a point on it—I have been considering just how worthless a thing fond remembrance truly is.
This feeling occurred to me while sitting at home one evening, roughly halfway through the five weeks of my empanelment. Rather innocuously and without provocation, a curious little thought surfaced amid the turbid waters of my mind. When my time on the jury came to a close I’d have to go back to my regular life, at which time all of the facets of the jury experience that I had initially seen as limitations I’d soon grow to miss. For instance, the individually wrapped donuts we were provided daily. They felt like an outsider’s closest approximation of the pastry if they’d been armed with only the most rudimentary description: that it was round, and that you were supposed to hate yourself for having eaten it. But all the same, I found myself taking a curious liking to them, along with the other assorted food service oddities that we were presented with daily.
It’s a Monday night and I’m sitting in the Chicago Diner with Matt Watson, the English midfielder with the Chicago Fire a month or so into his second year playing the club. We’re at Chicago Diner — perhaps the city’s premier meat-free eatery — because Watson is a vegan and has been meaning to try it out since moving here from Vancouver last March. But at present it is a bit of a fool’s errand, as our conversation has gotten off to a running start, and Watson has hardly had a moment to pause and bite into his Buddha’s Karma Burger, a curried sweet potato sandwich that captured his attention straightaway.
It seems though that whenever I let up with my questions to give him a chance to eat, Watson still has something more to say. He’s a gregarious person; curious, open, funny, all in ways that one doesn’t expect to find in a professional athlete. It’s quite refreshing honestly, and so the conversation just keeps flowing. Before the end of the night we’ve covered serious ground — not unlike Watson does on the pitch — chasing topics in every direction from discussing our mutual love for “The Walking Dead,” to heady talk about whether art and souls actually exist, even stopping briefly to figure out what is going on with Jay Electronica’s rap career (Watson has had to give up on the underground sensation ever releasing a proper album).
As anyone who has seen Vegas Vacation, The Godfather Part III, or Blues Brothers 2000 can likely attest, taking time away from something that had been great can make the act of returning to it a rather painful experience. These trepidations were no doubt a feeling shared by many as the Chicago Fire took to the field last Friday after a full 20-day spell in the dry dock. The Men In Red had begun to form into a cohesive unit in the matches prior to the unintended hiatus, leading several people to speculate that the squad’s progress would be undone in the fallow period. The naysayers were proven wrong in the end, as the night saw the Fire put on quite a show for their soccer-starved fans, rolling to a 1-0 victory over the visiting New York City FC. David Accam opened his scoring account with the team, and nearly came close to netting his first hat trick as well.
The result can be credited to a wide variety of factors beyond simply that of the Fire outplaying NYCFC. For one thing, New York were without starters David Villa and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, two big difference makers for the side. Second, the Fire played nearly the 2/3rds of the match with a man advantage after Andrew Jacobson was sent off in the 24th minute for fouling David Accam on a breakaway. Despite these advantages Chicago were still only able to manage a one goal performance, which nearly slipped away at the end of the game. That the Fire were held to such a parsimonious lead was, quite simply, because NYCFC keeper Ryan Meara had an absolutely sensational night between the sticks–save for his lone gaffe that led to David Accam’s goal–which called to mind the performance put on by Tim Howard at last year’s World Cup in the USMNT’s match against Belgium. The second best defensive performance on the night came not from the NYCFC defense, but from the uprights of the goal itself, as the Fire struck woodwork 3 times in most convincing fashion.
In Newtonian physics one of the basest principles governing movement states that an object in motion will remain in that state unless acted upon by an equal and opposite force. With the Chicago Fire gaining momentum, finally fielding a fully-fit side and cruising to their second win in a row, things appeared to be auguring in their favor. That is to say, unless something should arise and put a stop to their forward progress, significantly altering the team’s trajectory.
There was already going to be a minor speed bump along the way, with Chicago and the New England Revolution electing to reschedule their April 15th match, as it coincided with the ever-popular USA-Mexico international friendly happening on the same day. The bye-week for the Men In Red would lighten a congested week, allowing them more time to maintain match fitness before they were to head to Montreal on April 18th to face the Impact.
Would it be foolish to suggest that there is power to be found in defeat? That one learns more about themselves in agony than in ecstasy? Consider that the Chicago Fire have started their season on what is being called an historic low—for the team, at least—scoring only one goal in three matches, and tallying a whopping zero points, of a possible nine, going 0-3-0. It is surely a situation which has caused much hand-wringing and disparaged thinking. But it should, first and foremost, be viewed in context: of the team, of the season, and of the league, as a way of seeing things fully.
Think of it this way: to lose in a knockout tournament, like the current NCAA March Madness basketball competition, means no more play, straight up game over, go home, have a nice life. But a loss in the regular season is a signal, saying things aren’t working, reformulate, try harder. And it is there, in that distinction that one finds the crucial kernel, that of hopeful experimentation. That a team can achieve better, and that it fully intends to do so. Make no mistake, the Chicago Fire are not some Bialystock and Bloom production of Springtime For Hitler, they are a going concern.
What connectve tissue binds the following disparate items: Steven Spielberg’s 2005 thriller Munich, Bon Iver’s 2011 self-titled album, and this past Saturday night’s Chicago Fire tilt against the Vancouver Whitecaps? If, dear reader, it should happen that you’ve experienced any of the three the scent may be familiar, but for those souls who haven’t had the pleasure, please allow this explanation. Each of the above-named items are of that particularly unfortunate caste: entertainments which tease their audience into believing they are in the company of something truly wonderful, only to squander much of that goodwill in the waning moments, whether it be through a ridiculously operatic grief-sex scene, Bruce Hornsby-channeling soft rock, or a defensive lapse leading to a goal in the 86th minute spoiling the home opener.
Often the best way to process the reaction that this causes is to simply dismiss the trespasses against that which came before, rather than dismiss the entire work itself. Songs can be removed from listening devices, films paused for eternity, but for a game of soccer, such expurgation is less an option.
The team gets its ducks in a row ahead of a big season. Will it pay off?
Things move quickly in the vacuum of the MLS offseason. Also I talk about the science of snow.