The Chicago History Museum's grand banquet hall is overflowing with nearly 500 Chicago Fire Soccer Club fans, bubbling with excitement at the club's supporter-organized 15th-anniversary celebration. The room's layout (long, narrow) is not ideal for speeches, but speeches certainly have to be made because of the occasion, a special one for the club and the city: October 8 marks the date of both the start of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, out of whose ashes the modern city was built, and the date in 1997 when Fire general manager Peter Wilt unveiled the club's name and identity on Navy Pier. Friends are catching up, glasses are clinking, the festivities are bubbling over.
Hristo Stoichkov strides up to the podium, and the room falls silent. He speaks slowly, deliberately, without expression but with intensity. He talks one sentence at a time in Spanish (he played in Spain for seven years), pausing to allow former Fire head coach Denis Hamlett to translate bit by bit, meaningful words drawn from his stony, stern countenance. "This is one of the best clubs I played for," the former Barcelona, Fire, CSKA Sofia, and World Cup star concludes, weighing his words appropriately for the audience.
I like to think that somewhere in deepest Wisconsin there’s an equivalent of the Bat Signal, but bearing the logo of the defunct Miami Fusion. It’s linked by Bluetooth to the Big Soccer message boards, and now and again, in cases of dire emergency, enough frenzied postings from MLS fans will send its beam arching into the sky while a siren made of old Ray Hudson samples yells ‘Peeeeeeetaaaaaaaa!” into the night
Peter Wilt is a curio within the world of MLS. To a certain vintage of fans, he’s an iconic figure who stands for a perceived Golden Age of club-fan relationships — setting a romantic standard that subsequent generations of execs can only fall short of as the game grows. As former general manager and president of the Chicago Fire, Wilt helped usher the first MLS expansion team into the league, to great success on and off the field. He was at the forefront of, if not a downright pioneer of, many of the tropes we now associate with MLS 2.0, from dedicated stadia to supporters' sections — and even a prototypical version of the designated player, in signing Hristo Stoichkov before such a thing as a designated player existed. Yet despite the fan clamor for him that always arises when a senior management position opens up in MLS, Wilt hasn’t held a senior MLS position since being forced out of the Fire in 2005.