It becomes more obvious with each passing day, with the 15th a deadline that no longer requires a telescope to see and now obviously has a gaping hole between its legs which the union and ownere are going to drive right through, that we're not going to have NHL hockey when we're accustomed to. We can spend time thinking of useless protests or campaigns to make ourselves feel better (more on that later in the week). But at some point, we'll all have to confront the open time we have that would have been dedicated to watching, talking about, and thinking about hockey (won't be so hard for me, I can spend more time thinking about dinosaurs. Which I spend most of my day doing anyway). So, over the next couple weeks, I thought we should provide some options for you that might help eat away at the foreboding darkness of a Blackhawks-less world. We'll study all of them through a variety of categories that I've just made up and probably won't remember.
Today, let's focus on the local 11, the Bridgeview purveyors of The Beautiful Game, The Chicago Fire.
Hockey Similarities: Ok, I get it. A lot of you are not fans of the proper football like I am. Believe me, I've heard from you. But I'm always curious about hockey fans who immediately dismiss soccer. Because while at a much slower pace and on a bigger field, the movements and strategies of soccer are quite similar to hockey. The idea of pulling defenders out of position, finding open space and exploiting it, and of course, putting an object into a net, it all feels the same. But hey, if it's not your thing it's not your thing. However, I think there are other factors unique to The Fire that make it a worthwhile experience.
Likability Of The Team: Pretty strong. The Fire have transformed from an old, plodding side that never threatened the playoffs to a much younger, quicker one that looks firmly set to challenge for more than just squeaking into the postseason. However, if you're expecting a Barcelona-style pass and move team, you'll be disappointed. They don't pass around a lot, preferring to just get up the field as quickly as possible. But they do it at a high pace, and can strike quickly. They're also fairly stuffed with promising youngsters, a couple of which might end up on the US squad one day soon.
Star Power: The Fire don't come with a Beckham or an Henry, someone whose name you'll immediately recognized. Pavel Pardo is probably the biggest name in world football, but he's aging and more a calming presence than a dynamic one. Their true promising young players come in defense, which is hard to appreciate. Sean Johnson is the goalkeeper, and he's recently broken into backing up Tim Howard with the national team. He's athletic and can be erratic, capable of the spectacular save as well as some clangers. Austin Berry is a central defender who has made huge leaps in his rookie season. A call up for a friendly isn't too far away. Chris Rolfe came back after five years in Europe and has been a dynamic attacking force for the past couple months. He's scored some absolute stunning goals.
The Dustin Byfuglien - Player Fire Fans Love That I'm Not Sure I Get: Patick Nyarko, a speedy winger who scored against Houston. He looks like a headless chicken at times but Fire fans assure me the team couldn't live without him. He's fast and....fast. Actually, he's more Stalberg than Buff.
Championship hopes: They're outside contenders instead of real headliners right now. They're currently third in their conference, and the MLS works like baseball now were the 4th and 5th place teams in each conference will have a one game playoff to just get into the actual tournament. So 3rd or above is where you want to be. But in jumbled picture, the Fire could end up anywhere. They look short on true inspiration to create the moments you would need to beat to win, but they try and make up for it through sheer graft. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Main Rival: Columbus - YOU'RE JUST A SUBURB OF DETROIT! And apparently their fans are racist.
Stadium: The stadium itself, Toyota Park, is gorgeous. Can be real loud too, as it's all metal and everything reverberates. Location, however? Rough. Bridgeview is way out there, and there's only one way out there so traffic can be an issue if you try and get there about kickoff. But you don't have to drive. Several bars run a beer bus out there before the game, and they can be a blast. There's a real sense of community on them, you save money from the parking anyway, and you get beer.
Fans: If you miss the time when the Hawks were a true cult following, you might recognize the feeling amongst Fire fans. They all have an attitude as if they're in on a cool secret that others are just missing. Some of the patrons at Toyota are there for just a party, which can be annoying. There's a larger family aspect as well than you'd find at Hawks games, but they're restricted to certain sections. Section 8, the most virulent supporters, run a tailgate every game that's 5 bucks for food and five for beer. With ticket, transportation, and drinking and eating before the game you can get that in for 40 bucks or so. It's a fucking steal. And it's easy to fraternize with everyone in the lot.
Blog Strength: High. Both SB's Hot Time And Old Town and On The Fire are thorough and entertaining. They have strong twitter presences as well, and have developed a love for fighting with me. So they must be good guys.
Overall, both Kills and I have become converts. There are issues, but they're easily overcome. And if the Fire make a run, they could be playing games through November, which should get us to the start of hockey season. if you need us, we'll be in Section 8.