When I was a youngster growing up in Michigan, I was a fan of the Detroit-area sports franchises, and there was no love lost towards Chicago-area teams among my friends. We watched the Chicago Cubs during the summer, but that was more a matter of convenience—and boredom—as the games were broadcast each afternoon on WGN.
We didn’t care for the Bears, but the Lions were always terrible anyways, so it didn’t matter. And back then, the Red Wings made short work of the Blackhawks.
The biggest sports rivalry was on the basketball front, between our beloved Bad Boys and the Bulls. A few kids cheered for the Bulls because of Michael Jordan, but many of us had no time for those traitors.
Despite all this, when I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2000, I became a fan of the Chicago Fire. Certainly, there was no rivalry—historical or other—with a non-existent Detroit franchise, and my wife and I enjoyed going to the Fire games for a number of reasons.
First, it was convenient to travel to their stadium, Soldier Field, by public transportation. Second, the team had some bona fide upcoming stars (including Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley, among many others), who were both enjoyable to watch and quickly working their way into the picture of my beloved United States men’s national team.
The team was also successful, winning its division three times between 2000 and 2003, as well as playing in MLS Cup twice and winning the U.S. Open Cup twice during that span.
Although the team moved to Naperville in 2002—as Soldier Field underwent a major renovation—the team was still successful and full of players enjoyable to watch.
Fast forward to the last few years. In 2006, the team moved to Bridgeview, on the southwest edge of the city and into Toyota Park. It won the U.S. Open Cup again that year, but hasn’t won a championship of any kind since.
The stadium itself is beautiful. It’s clean. It has spacious walkways for the fans. The view of the city over the northeast shoulder of the stadium is picturesque. Parking is easy.
It’s also situated next to a large industrial era with no neighborhood bars or restaurants within walking distance. Public transit to the stadium is a nightmare—driving your car is worse.
On the field, things aren’t better. The team has missed the playoffs—even by MLS’ easy standards—five of the last six years. The team signs no-name players who make little impact before their early exits (see Shaun Maloney) and rely on MLS retreads all over the field.
Where there was once supreme pride in the club, there is now embarrassment. Where there were once victories, there are now only defeats.
So, when the Fire announced they had traded Harry Shipp this weekend, it was easy to see why fans reacted the way they did. Not only was Shipp one of the only watchable players for Chicago the past few seasons, he was also a hometown hero. From nearby Lake Forest, Shipp grew up wanting to play for the Fire. It meant something to him—you could tell.
From a practical side, the Shipp trade may make sense in the long run. Rumors are the team is targeting a foreigner to play attacking center mid. Other say Collin Fernandez—a homegrown talent like Shipp—has impressed the new coach, Veljko Paunovic.
The problem is that no one trusts the organization any more. The fans don’t believe that owner Andrew Hauptman cares about the club and they’ve sat through years of incompetence, or inaction (I’m not sure which is worse). Players leaving the club have publicly blasted the team’s management and fights between the leaders of the club and the fans have also gone public.
The Shipp trade is just one more straw—and judging by some fans’ reaction on Twitter this week, the last.
— Josh Ruby (@josh_ruby10) February 13, 2016
— Matt Bragg (@mattwbragg) February 13, 2016
— Mark Hughes (@markh583) February 13, 2016
— Drew Dingman (@porcupine_pete) February 13, 2016
— Mark Haraus (@_Spodie_) February 13, 2016
— Michael Pattullo (@M_Pattullo) February 13, 2016
— Ed Titus (@stayoffreseda) February 13, 2016
Shipp, for his part, handled the trade with class and composed a heartfelt message that he also shared via Twitter.
Dear, Chicago. Took some time to compose myself and write down my thoughts in the attached notes! pic.twitter.com/kH0gG67Bhm
— Harry Shipp (@championShipp11) February 13, 2016
But for everyone still left in Chicago—those who have sat through the years of Frank Klopas and Frank Yallop, those who have watched the team’s most promising players leave, those who have watched the club miss out on big signing after big signing, those who have watched management bring in players who create little excitement and display even less talent, those who have endured years of an acrimonious relationship with the club’s leadership and ownership—the future doesn’t seem so bright.