Chicago Fire: Top 6 statue candidates

BRONX, NY - JULY 08: Head Coach Chris Armas of New York Red Bulls claps to fans after the Major League Soccer Hudson River Derby match between New York City FC and New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium on July 8, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York. New York City FC won the match with a score of 1 to 0. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - JULY 08: Head Coach Chris Armas of New York Red Bulls claps to fans after the Major League Soccer Hudson River Derby match between New York City FC and New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium on July 8, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York. New York City FC won the match with a score of 1 to 0. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Galaxy just put up a statue for a club legend. After 22 years in MLS, the Chicago Fire have their own legends, but no statue. So who should get it?

While the Chicago Fire preseason has officially started, unfortunately, fans haven’t been able to see much of the team and how they’re gelling together. This clearly calls for one more fluff piece before the real season starts.

The Los Angeles Galaxy have recently announced that they are putting up a statue of the original Designated Player: David Beckham. This has sparked arguments throughout the league about his worthiness to be given a statue at a team where he had less than 100 league appearances. I could totally throw in my opinion for this situation, but I’m here to talk about the Chicago Fire.

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We here in Chicago understand the meaning behind having a statue in front of your stadium. Michael Jordan’s statue in front of the United Center is a sort of landmark that it’s the home of the Chicago Bulls. He’s joined out there by Chicago Blackhawks legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. In Wrigleyville, statues honor Harry Caray, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo. The White Sox now have eight legends enshrined in bronze. So, after 20 years of existence, why shouldn’t the Fire erect their own monuments to the past?

There is a couple of different criteria that I’ll be introducing throughout this piece to try to whittle down who should be getting a statue outside of Toyo — I mean SeatGeek Stadium. First up, however, I have a couple of players who should not be receiving a statue, in my opinion:

First, midfielder and long-time captain, Logan Pause. When the idea of a statue was passed around the Chicago Fire fan base, many were quick to bring him up. I am not one of those people. There is certainly some sort of argument to be made about his longevity with the club (286 league appearances), but he never really… did anything. He wasn’t really an outstanding player and he spent most of his career growing into a captaincy role. It’s hard to think of a comparison to any other player in sports because this is a very soccer-specific career arc. He is a great character and turned into a real leader, but with 20+ years of history, we can find someone more deserving.

Also not making it outside SeatGeek are former head coach Bob Bradley and midfielder Cuauhtémoc Blanco, for kind of similar reasons. Blanco, while having a massive impact on the club, didn’t really play for very long (only 62 league appearances). And the reason why I grouped him in with Bradley is that his name isn’t synonymous with the Fire. Maybe in MLS he is, but if you say his name to any soccer fan around the world, they’d probably remember him with Club America. In Bradley’s case, not only has he done bigger and better things on the international stage, but he is also currently active coaching in MLS, and not in Chicago. It just doesn’t feel right to me. Come back to me after he retires.

Finally, on the honorable mentions portion of this statue shortlist, fan favorite left back Gonzalo Segares. Similarly to Pause, ‘Super Sega’ was never a big part of the team in terms of on the field work. However, he was well loved by fans for the way he fought for the badge (with 61 total bookings over his 231 league appearances) and, after his retirement, he helped to develop players like Djordje Mihailovic and Andrew Gutman in the academy. But, there are just too many players deserving of the honor of a statue out front, so all I hope for is a future Ring of Fire induction for him.

Okay. So I’ve whittled the list down to five players. Let’s take a look at all of them in no particular order (okay, some particular order):

6. Zach Thornton

I have Zach Thornton first because I’d put him as the “just barely made it” pick for this list. With 215 appearances for the Chicago Fire, he spent pretty much his entire career in the Second City. Taken 11th in the ’97 Expansion Draft, Zach was expected to only be a backup to Jorge Campos, who the Fire had traded for. Instead, Zach took the starting job and helped keep the net empty for 8 seasons, missing only the 2004 season due to a short stint in Benfica. Really the only reason against him is that he hasn’t really done much involving the Fire in his retirement. I wouldn’t blame him, since it’s due to him coaching close to home in the Virginia area with DC United.

5. Chris Armas

The Captain. It’s just that simple. Originally drafted by the Galaxy and a part of the Jorge Campos trade, Chris Armas would end up becoming the true leader of the Chicago Fire for his entire career. Logging 214 appearances and over 19,000 minutes, Armas’ command of the midfield and box-to-box prowess is a major reason for the Fire’s first decade of success. After his retirement, Armas was added to the Ring of Fire, the Chicago Fire Hall of Fame (I alluded to it earlier). Unfortunately for the Fire, he also prefers working close to home in New York with the Red Bulls. He was recently promoted from assistant to head coach, but unlike Bradley, he would be commemorated for his playing career.

4. Piotr Nowak

Piotr Nowak was technically signed to the Fire before they had a coach or even branding. Apparently, the league had signed Nowak and already assigned him to their brand new Chicago team before they’d even decided on a name. He proved to be just as integral to the club as the badge with 114 league appearances, all starts. In his five years with the Fire, he not only excelled on the pitch with 26 goals and 48 assists, but was also the lightning rod for bringing in new Fire fans. Almost all early success for the Chicago Fire can be credited to him and although he’s never coached for the club (and probably never will), Nowak still visits the supporters before matches whenever he’s in town for Ring of Fire ceremonies (of which he’s a member).

3. Frank Klopas

“Frankie Klopas becomes the hometown hero as the Fire does The Double!”

That call rings in the head of every single Chicago Fire fan and for good reason. Frank Klopas moved to Chicago when he was 8 and started his playing career with the indoor Chicago Sting team. After years of waiting, he finally returned to Chicago with only a few seasons left in his career; but those two seasons cemented him as the “Hometown Hero”. Klopas helped to define what it was to play for the Chicago Fire and exemplified the City of Chicago so well, becoming known as “The Mayor of Greek-town”. After only two seasons playing for the Fire, he first coached the short-lived indoor Chicago Storm before becoming the Fire’s Technical Director in 2008. He continued to befriend supporters and in 2011 he became the interim coach of the club. Only coaching a couple of seasons, Klopas is still the best coach statistically for the Fire in the past decade. Since coaching the Montreal Impact to a CONCACAF Champion’s League final, he’s stepped into the booth for the Fire and continues to keep up relations between the supporters and the club as a member of the Ring of Fire. If Ernie Banks is “Mr. Cub”, Frank Klopas is “Mr. Fire”.

2. CJ Brown

Although, maybe that title could go to this man right here. It is almost impossible to describe the passion that CJ Brown had for the Chicago Fire. I have heard about youth academy coaches for the club pointing to him as the prime example of the club’s tenants: “Tradition, Honor, Passion”. Spending his entire professional career for the club, a whole 296 league appearances spanning 12 seasons, CJ involved himself with the supporters as much as possible, winning Humanitarian of the Year three times in a row. After retiring he ended up coaching in Real Salt Lake with Jason Kreis, but returned to Chicago for a single season in 2014. Currently, Chris Armas’ assistant in New York, CJ’s name is still synonymous with Chicago soccer and was almost instantly added to the Ring of Fire after his retirement.

But wait… We have a challenger riding in from the distance. BAH GAWD, THAT’S PETER WILT‘S MUSIC!!!!

1. Peter Wilt

It’s not exactly traditional for General Managers to be honored in this way, but the Cubs have a gosh-dang color commentator outside Wrigley. Sometimes called “The First Fan”, Peter Wilt wasn’t just a GM.  Basing his own management style on childhood hero Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox, Wilt has become known for his transparency and willingness to hang out with supporters not only in the tailgates but on the terraces. He not only built the Fire, but he helped to build the stadium they play in and built the other team that plays in the same stadium, the Chicago Red Stars (BTW: the Chicago Red Stars statue is clearly Julie Ertz once she retires, although I’m being told Alyssa Mautz is the front-runner). Even after being fired in 2005, Wilt continues to make it to every home game he can to be with supporters even as he continues to spread soccer around the Midwest. Truly a man deserving of a statue at 7000 S Harlem.

Next. Chicago Fire: Recapping the offseason so far. dark

So that’s it. Did I get everyone? Did I overrate anyone? Tell me in the comments below which Chicago Fire player you think deserves a statue. Side-Quest: What Chicago Red Stars player should get a statue? Anyway, stay tuned for actual Chicago Fire and MLS analysis as we finally get into the meat of the preseason.