TOPIC ONE - A Bridgeview Too Far!
Let’s start off with a completely beanbrained, crackpot theory.
You’ll want the backstory first. A modified form of rounders is extremely popular in parts of the United States of America. One of the most popular “baseball” clubs – that’s what the sport is called there - is based in Chicago. This team is variously known as the White Stockings, the Orphans, the Colts, and more recently the Cubs. Having recently won the World Cup of Rounders – no British teams seem to have entered – the family that owns the Cubs are going to run, and build a stadium for, a USL team.
Naturally, everyone speaking an Indo-European language has reacted “Uh, what about the Fire?” or words to that effect. So here’s the theory, and it’s based on how history is cyclical. The Cubs play in Wrigley Field. But they did not build Wrigley Field. That would be weird if they did, because they’re baseball players and not carpenters or masons or construction workers.
Wrigley Field was built by the owner of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League in 1914, and it was called Weeghman Field after its owner. The Federal League quickly became what it is today, the Whales moved to Shedd Aquarium, and the nicest baseball stadium in town – if not the world – lay empty. Weeghman sold it to the Wrigley family, who owned the Cubs. They have played there ever since.
I think it would be a delightful turn of events if the Cubs owners, a little over a hundred years later built a beautiful soccer stadium, and then sold it to their more established competitors.
Or, it’s possible that Nelson Rodriguez is shepherding an owner transition as much as a franchise rebuild. I’m basing this mostly on his previous job, helping make Chivas USA what it is today.
There’s nothing that says Bridgeview and Lincoln Park can’t have perfectly adequate competing teams, much like the Cubs and the White Sox. I honestly don’t know how much of a cautionary tale the Chicago Cardinals are here. The NFL was not the big deal in 1960 that it would be even ten years later, and the Cardinals franchise was a feeble joke for most of human history. And now that it seems like Andrew Hauptman has found his wallet, it’s certainly plausible that Chicago soccer could host dueling billionaires.
I don’t want to run down what was Toyota Park, what was going to be Bridgeview Park, and what will instead be SeatGeek Stadium. It was certainly a pretty thing when it opened, although perhaps I’m comparing it too much to Naperville’s Cardinal Stadium and that horrifying remodel of Soldier Field. The stadium has been a long-documented disappointment to both MLS team and the Village of Bridgeview, the lifespan of stadiums in this gilded age of athletics is artificially brief, and the Fire don’t own the place anyway. If Precourt Sports Ventures can run now-Mapfre Stadium into the ground, then it’s worrying for teams playing in stadiums they don’t own or control.
But FC Dallas, and the USSF, has made a huge commitment to Frisco’s Toyota Stadium (not to be confused with my God, stadium naming rights are the ever-loving pits). The once-Pizza Hut Park is owned municipally, and is of similar vintage to the Fire’s Bridgeview home. Bridgeview even has an NWSL team that will hopefully continue to grow into it.
There’s also this weird wrinkle – back in 2016, Guillermo Rivera reported on a potential sale of the Fire that, obviously, did not go through. Some of the reasons why that sale did not go through may have been listed as Rivera reported these items about the Fire’s 30-year lease with Bridgeview:
The Fire pay an annual Facility Fee originally set at $300,000.00 that increases at 2% every year. They also cover event expenses for each use of the facility.
Naming rights are owned by the Village, along with marketing and advertising rights for the stadium. The team does however retain subsidiary naming rights for areas within the stadium.
The Fire have to reimburse the Village for any home games held outside of the facility. International friendlies included.
No MLS team can play in the Chicago market area in any stadium other than Toyota Park, even if the Fire cease operations.
The team is responsible for reimbursing the Village for use of ancillary facilities, including the main field for practice sessions.
Concessions and box office are controlled by the Village, although there are shared revenues.
Shared revenues include: Team at 92% of gross ticket revenue; 50% split of net parking and net concession revenue; Team receives 30% net license, net event suite revenue, and net sponsorship revenue. Team receives 22.5% of gross merchandise revenue.
The lease is down to less than twenty years now, at least. Any MLS expansion bid offering these terms today, would have been kicked out of the room, via the window. It would be more surprising if the Fire weren’t trying to leave Bridgeview, or at least drastically renegotiate. And thanks to Mr. Precourt, we have confirmation that MLS considers stadium leases as sacred as the NFL does. If these terms are close to true, it shows what an act of aggression last year’s Soldier Field All-Star Game truly was.
MLS abandoning Chicago is completely unthinkable, of course. Right? Sure, the NFL did without Los Angeles for over twenty years, but MLS can’t be that deluded. Right? I mean, they started the league without Chicago, but remedying that error was just about the first thing they did. They’d rather play in Bridgeview than nowhere. Right? It’s probably just as well that Precourt Sports Ventures has made moving an MLS franchise look extremely painful. If the road out of town is strewn with rakes for the Crew, there is little out there that would tempt the Fire. Right?
There’s also the tiny possibility that the story is as it seems at face value. The Ricketts family has seen what has transpired in places like Sacramento and Cincinnati, and they want in. USL is where the action is, for a given definition of USL (id est, not MLS reserve teams). I’m skeptical, though, because places like Sacramento and Cincinnati had MLS in their crosshairs from the jump. So much so, in fact, that it will be very interesting to see what happens to whichever (or both?!) has their dream deferred. The example of Indy Eleven is…not reassuring.
The wild card here are the Bronfman family, who are the very deep pockets behind Andrew Hauptman. Hauptman has been extremely quiet of late – no more op-eds on the team site about how awful the fans are. Boy, there’s a guy who is happy Precourt came along to wrest the Worst MLS Owner belt away. The Bronfmans seem to have no interest in the Fire, but then all of a sudden they let Nelson Rodriguez buy Bastian Schweinsteiger, and the team is even included in conversations for Fernando Torres. Attendances went up last year, what with them not stinking up North America and all. No one even brings up the Jermaine Jones coin flip loss anymore.
It’s entirely possible that with the Ricketts family involved, that may inspire to Bronfmans that matter to look at what their fellow billionaires have been up to lately. Their opinions on a North Side soccer team, assuming they have any, will count for a great deal.
TOPIC TWO - Grassed Off!
As of this moment, it’s hoped that the Kemar Lawrence injury against Atlanta won’t be as frightening as it appeared. Let’s hope he makes a full recovery very quickly – so we can have an intelligent discussion about artificial turf.
Right now six MLS teams play on it. As a comparison, only Tijuana plays on it in Liga MX. Wikipedia does not list playing surfaces for Premiership, La Liga, Bundesliga or Serie A, but I think we can draw the obvious conclusion that they play on natural grass.
There’s probably a very interesting book somewhere about how so much of the world’s sports culture comes from British lawn grass. For a given definition of “very interesting.”
But let’s sit down for a hot second and think. “Natural” grass, by and large, isn’t. The Fire, as I learned during the course of my exhaustive research on their stadium – okay, Wikipedia again – play on Kentucky bluegrass. Kentucky bluegrass is not native to North America. “Since the 1950s and early 1960s, 90% of Kentucky bluegrass seed in the United States has been produced on specialist farms in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.”
There’s a reason Canadian football, Argonauts aside, play on artificial turf. There’s a reason the Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf in 2015. Natural grass isn’t going to be a cheap solution everywhere. And as long as MLS shares facilities with other sporting pursuits, there will be financial incentives to carpet instead of plant.
Which leaves two options for MLS athletes (and fans, I suppose, but let’s be fair, it ain’t our ankles on the chopping block). One, hope for technology to improve. It doesn’t seem that tough an ask, does it? Human beings have domesticated maize corn and mastered chia pet technology, fake grass that doesn’t blow out knees shouldn’t be that hard. But for years sports owners hoped they could get away with an inch of green carpet over solid god-damned concrete. A few years ago we had high hopes that shredded used tires would provide a solution. History will look back on us the way we look at Milo Minderbinder’s attempts to sell chocolate-covered cotton.
The other option is to hope that two historically inept unions join forces. The NFLPA doesn’t like fake stuff, either. In theory, concerted action by MLS and NFL players against turf should yield positive results. In theory, a boycott of the Women’s World Cup should also have yielded positive results. Both technology and organization look like very long-term propositions.
So we’re going to be stuck with the status quo for a long time. Thierry Henry-tier players can beg off games on carpet, and Kemar Lawrence-tier players will have to hope for the best.
TOPIC THREE - Hey! Fanbase! Leave the Kids Alone!
There is currently a fifteen-year-old performing very, very well in the USL. We, the American soccer fanbase, are going to leave him alone to develop according to what’s best for him. The only opinions that matter are his, his family, and to a vastly lesser extent his coaches and club. We are fans and spectators. Our job is to watch. If our opinion is desired, I’m sure someone relevant will ask. We’re not doing this Freddy Adu crap again.
This fifteen-year-old currently plans to play for a country that may not be the United States of America. We are going to let this teenager decide for himself what’s in his heart and what’s best for his career. Yes, we’ve gone berserk over players choosing other nations to represent, and every time we’ve done that it’s been funny and charming. I’m sure Rossi, Subotic and Gonzalez all had a jolly laugh over it. It’s not so funny and charming when the target is a minor. We’re all familiar with the college sports fans who Tweet at recruits. We’re not doing that crap either.
TOPIC FOUR - Bicenquinquagenary the Dawn's Early Light!
So the President of the United States, whose name escapes me for the moment, has decided to publicly lobby for the US to host the World Cup. (Can we admit at this point that Mexico and Canada are basically the other two from Destiny’s Child? Sure, if it were about World Cup history it would be Canada and the US as the Pips. But it’s about that do-re-mi, as Woody Guthrie sang.)
This has probably screwed over the bid entirely, because FIFA is a flaming sack of crap crammed inside a smaller bag which is also full of crap and is also on fire. And also because government and soccer are supposed to be kept strictly separate, otherwise FIFA might find itself subject to laws or something.
But I wanted to remind the fanbase that however one feels about President – what IS that fellow’s name, I should look it up, Bing should know – and that while Morocco isn’t the kleptomaniacal human rights black hole to quite the same degree that current and future World Cup hosts, those of us partial to freedom of the press, women’s equality and LGBTQ rights should probably still hope the World Cup comes back to North America.
One might reasonably argue that the World Cup will spur greater freedom and civil rights in Morocco, however. Let’s see how that works in Russia and Qatar.
One more thing that hasn't been talked up much. 2026 will be the 250th anniversary of the United States – at least, the Declaration of Independence - and the World Cup will fall smack in the middle of that. Come on, planet! Let’s have a party! The Rock will be President by then, won't he?
A cynic might also say “Why NOT support little countries’ bids, because the World Cup has become such a leviathan that only superpowers and regional alliances will be able to host? Qatar is going to fail, just wait.”
Well, that’s a terrible and awful thing for a remarkably poorly-veiled version of myself to say. If there was a shred of evidence that hosting megasports like the World Cup and the Olympics did a blooming thing for cities or nations, I’d be sad that the vast majority of the globe is ruled out from ever hosting.
But it would be a chance to right one of the wrongs from the last bids of the Sepp Blatter era. It’s too late to move the Russia World Cup, of course, but perhaps Qatar can be persuaded to send the World Cup to the home of football. England, not Russia, should have hosted this year’s pageant, but for people exactly like Chuck Blazer accepting bribes from people exactly like Vladimir Putin. What would be even better, though, is a United Kingdom bid. Scotland’s history and contribution to the sport deserves official international celebration, in my opinion. It would certainly help the moribund Celtic and Debris status of the domestic game. It’s unlikely Wales would be left out, thanks to having a pretty good stadium. And we could spare Northern Ireland a game or two, because any excuse to unreasonably cut into Europe’s World Cup allocation will do for me.
Even if they don’t get the 2022 World Cup away from the Persian Gulf, a British World Cup should and will happen sooner than later. Unless the United Kingdom plans to do something outrageously self-destructive on a political scale that would sever most of its economic and political alliances, throwing itself and Europe into turmoil, but nobody would ever be that silly. Here’s to Washington in ’26 and London in ’30!
….oh, wait, Uruguay should really host the centennial of the World Cup, shouldn’t they. It's only fair. Okay, London in ’34! Whether as part of a larger Oceania bid, or a separate smaller bid for Airstrip One.