DaMarcus Beasley‘s return to MLS has Houston Dynamo fans excited and Chicago Fire fans infuriated. Beasley, who entered the league with the Fire, signed as a non-DP with the Dynamo. But Fire fans have been angry about the club’s inaction when it comes to major signings. Now the Fire could potentially break the MLS season record of most ties in a single season, and this penny-pinching has got to end.
Criticism of owner Andrew Hauptman has increased in recent years. Most of the criticism paints him as uncaring about his team and unwilling to spend big money. While players like David Beckham, Kaka, David Villa, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley go to other teams, the Fire have sat on their hands and signed less-than stellar players. While Cuathemoc Blanco, Freddie Ljungberg, Arne Friedrich and Mike Magee have been good signings, none of them have been able to really turn the team into the contenders the club used to field.
While other teams in other, sometimes smaller markets have thrived, the Fire have not. The golden years of 1998-2006 look like a distant memory, no thanks in part to Hauptman’s penny-pinching ways. Just looking at the seats in Toyota Park during games shows quite a few empty seats. Sure, the Fire do have to compete with several major teams, but this is the third-largest market in the MLS. They should be taking advantage of the massive post-World Cup surge in soccer‘s popularity. Instead, they’re content to be a small-market franchise in a major city.
Sure, the Fire have stepped up their marketing arm, and it has worked in this city — just ask John McDonough. But marketing doesn’t always work if the product is lousy. Having a major signing is a big step in that direction, but so far, the only “big” signing the Fire have made was an unknown Romanian midfielder, Razvan Cocis. Meanwhile, two teams that haven’t even started MLS play have made huge waves.
The Fire cannot continue to sit on their hands and let the rest of the league run away from them. If Hauptman can’t even bother to make a major move, then he might as well sell the team. He should also consider himself lucky the Fire don’t get much media attention. If they did, he could feel the heat from a city that’s all too familiar with penny-pinching owners.