It was a bad week for several old friends of mine, but there was also plenty of good news in my world as well last week.
Denis Hamlett, my first hire with the Chicago Fire in July of 1997 finally saw his tenure with MLS’ first expansion team come to an end yesterday as the team announced they will not renew his contract to serve as head coach. Denis’ team was 45 minutes away from last year’s MLS Cup and only penalty kicks seperated his squad from this year’s SuperLiga and MLS Eastern Conference Championships.
The announcement brought back memories of the first time I spoke to Denis. Sunil Gulati, then the MLS Deputy Commissioner called me in June of 1997 to ask if I would take Denis on in any role as he was under contract through the end of the year and his career had been ended earlier that year due to a stroke. I didn’t know Denis, but knew I needed more arms and legs. We spoke on the phone and he agreed to come on board for the rest of the year as a jack of all trades for the yet unnamed Chicago MLS team.
He spoke to youth soccer groups, answered phones, sold tickets, attended community functions and scouted MLS and A-League games for a coach that neither of us knew yet. When I hired Bob Bradley, I told him that I was pleased with Denis’ work and would recommend him, but it was up to him. Bob put Denis on trial, gave him some scouting assignments and worked with him for a period before deciding to hire him as part of his staff. Denis went on to win four US Open Cup Championships, a Supporters Shield and of course the 1998 MLS Cup during his tenure.
I’m probably too close to Denis and not close enough to the team anymore to give an opinion of great value on his departure. I’ll simply say that Denis has done more for the Fire organization in its history than just about anyone else, has been an important part of the organization’s many successes and he will be missed. It is safe to say that the Fire will have a fresh start next season with massive turnover of players and coaching staff. Here is a perspective from longtime follower Chris Costello.
Denis’ former boss Dave Sarachan, Associate Head Coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy, also came a penalty kick short of glory as Real Salt Lake used PKs for the second straight game to become the first sub .500 MLS Cup Champion. Having a sub .500 champion can be looked at as a testament to the playoff structure or as a criticism. For what it’s worth, the WPS champion this year was also sub .500 using a radically different playoff structure.
Like WPS’ Sky Blue FC, Real Salt Lake came on strong at the end of the year and was the best team when it counted most. The championship should not be lessened by RSL’s regular season record.
It’s not all doom and gloom in my circle this week, however. I certainly have friends at Real Salt Lake, including Andy Williams, whose autographed jersey I won in a Chicago Fire Foundation auction a couple weeks ago and arrived in my office yesterday. Andy’s story, along with that of his wife Marcia, whose leukemia is in remission, is a well told story that makes the victory sweet for them and all fans of Andy and Marcia.
Meanwhile, my Milwaukee Wave indoor team started its new season as good as possible by shutting out Monterrey LaRaZa in Mexico 15-0. Goalkeeper Nick Vorberg and a smothering team defense provided the first away shutout in the Wave’s 26 year history. That is going to be a difficult standard to live up to when we travel to Rockford Friday with a couple busloads of fans and staff and December 6th when the Wave’s home season kicks off at the US Cellular Arena.
And finally, Philadelphia’s uncertain future begins to crystallize today with its expansion draft. Head Coach Peter Nowak will make important decisions today that will influence the direction of the team for awhile. While today is the most visible player acquisition day for the Union, history shows that its import pales in comparison to the international acquisitions the team will make over the next few months.
I hope your week had more highs than lows and you all have plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.