WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, June 20, 2007) -- It was probably inevitable that Chicago Fire head coach Dave Sarachan was going to get canned. And he was today.
The struggling Fire (4-6-2, 14 points), after a strong start to the season that saw it open with a 3-0-1 record, is currently mired in a 1-6-1 stretch and scored only six goals in those eight matches. The team dropped from first to fifth place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.
The Fire has been hit with key injuries and call-ups to national-team duty. Last Saturday, visiting streaking D.C. United, Sarachan was missing six regulars, including Chris Armas, Chris Rolfe and Justin Mapp. Sarachan had to start second-year players Floyd Franks and Jordan Russolillo, who had played a combined 21 career minutes, along with Jeff Curtin and Bakary Soumare, who each had only two previous starts.
By way of full disclosure, I am and continue to be a very big Dave Sarachan fan. He is a true gentleman. Among coaches, he is among the most approachable and most honest with the media, as well as with the fans. He was great as an assistant at D.C. United, he was great as an assistant on the United States national-team bench and had a lot to do with the Americans overachieving in the 2002 World Cup. He was great at the Fire, at least until the current front office arrived.
In the press release announcing Sarachan's ouster, Fire president and chief executive officer John Guppy was quoted as saying "We are appreciative of everything Dave has done for this organization -- he has been a true professional in every sense of the word. At the same time, we realize that the team is not headed in the direction we would like and felt a change was necessary."
This translates into: "Don't let the door hit in the rear on your way out."
Guppy said the issue was a lack of motivation, saying there were things the team needed to do in terms of "leadership, inspiration, motivation."
"We need to inject a new personality into the head coaching position,'' Guppy said. "Our guys have under-performed, and it is the coach's responsibility to organize and motivate that group. One of the things we have lacked is the fire we have needed and that is a tone that is set by the coaches."
C.J. Brown, the Fire's veteran defender, who has been with the team since the beginning in 1998, dismissed Guppy's explanation out of hand. "If you are a professional player and you need your coach to motivate you, that is an issue in itself,'' Brown told the Chicago Daily Herald.
Armas, the team leader, called the firing unfair because the recent slide occurred with the team overwhelmed by injuries and other absences. "Dave has created an environment where people are comfortable and can thrive,'' he told the Daily Herald.
Actually Guppy was faced with a dilemma. He had a clear choice. He could have fired Sarachan, or he could have fired himself. The smart thing, of course, would have been to step down, but then Guppy has done very little smart since arriving at the Fire in April of 2005 from the MetroStars, who he had helped turn into the worst-run organization in MLS's brief history.
At the time, Guppy went from one Anschutz Entertainment Group team to another to replace Chicago's departing GM Peter Wilt, an extraordinarily popular figure with fans, the players and the media. (AEG has since sold the MetroStars, who became the New York Red Bulls.) The explanation for Wilt leaving was he spent too much time worrying about the fans, and too little selling season tickets and sponsorships for the Fire's new stadium.
Over the last two seasons, the Fire front office, led by Guppy, has done little to build the team. Armas, in pointing out the injury and call-up problem, said: "Myself, Justin Mapp, Ivan Guerrero, Chris Rolfe, Logan Pause, Thiago, that is a core group of our team." That comment really points out a problem. It is a group that, generally speaking, is aging, except for Mapp and Rolfe.
Guppy's answer was to offer a seven-figure contract to Mexican superstar Cuauhtémoc Blanco under the league's new designated player rule. There is no doubt that Blanco, wildly popular with Mexican fans, and there are a great many in Chicago, will help sell tickets. But there is more than a little doubt that the aging Blanco will be of much help to the Fire on the field. If his performance thus far in the CONCACAF Gold Cup is any indication, Anschutz's million-plus might have been better spent acquiring three less expensive players who could have helped the Fire immediately.
Sarachan took over as head coach of Chicago in 2003 and promptly earned MLS "Coach of the Year" honors in his first year, guiding the Fire to the league's best record and the Supporter's Shield. He also led the team to a pair of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles (2003, 2006), and helped Chicago reach the playoffs in three of his four seasons. Sarachan was 55-50-31 (.518) in five seasons with the Fire.
Fire assistant coach Denis Hamlett will take over on an interim basis and management said he would be considered among others to become the fulltime coach.