Chicago Fire vs. NY Red Bulls: The feud, the details and the owner who can’t let goApril 10, 2008 • By Soccer By Ives
It was one of the most interesting stories of the MLS off-season. Juan Carlos Osorio’s abrupt departure from the Chicago Fire to the New York Red Bulls and the subsequent feud that followed. It is a feud taken up by both team’s fans and waged by the teams, well at least one team.
You see, Chicago hasn’t let it go. More to the point, the Fire’s new owner, Andrew Hauptman, hasn’t let it go. Ever since Osorio said thanks, but no thanks to staying with the Fire, Hauptman has labled the Red Bulls, and Osorio specifically, as Public Enemy No. 1 in Chicago. According to multiple sources in MLS, Hauptman has told his team officials that the Fire will not do business of any kind with the Red Bulls.
While this shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, Hauptman’s recent public declarations about his contempt for Osorio’s departure have kicked up some embers on a flame that looked like it might fade. However, in his attempt to discredit Osorio and portray him as a villain to a Fire fanbase that already thinks Osorio is the devil, Hauptman has opened the door to providing a clearer, and more accurate description of the circumstances surrounding Osorio departure from Chicago.
In multiple profiles on Hauptman written in Chicago newspapers recently, the Fire owner made reference to a clause in Osorio’s contract with the Fire that would have allowed Osorio to leave his job. In neither case did Hauptman bother to point out that the fact that Osorio did not exercise that option, and in fact, helped the Fire secure a compensation package that was higher than any paid for a departing coach in the history of MLS.
Yes, you read that right. Osorio’s contract with the Fire included a clause that would have allowed him to resign, and after 30 days, he would have been free to take a position with any other team in the world, MLS or otherwise. The poorly-constructed contract, which came courtesy of Chicago’s previous owners AEG, left the door open for Osorio to walk away.
After initially being denied permission to speak with the Red Bulls about the job vacated by former coach Bruce Arena, Osorio used the escape clause as a bargaining tool. What started as a mild interest in the Red Bulls position turned into a strong desire to leave Chicago as Hauptman’s handling of the situation left Osorio eager to leave the club. With the escape clause as the ideal bargaining chip, Osorio made it clear to Chicago. Either the Fire let him interview with the Red Bulls and let the Red Bulls pay compensation if they hired him, or he would walk away and Chicago would receive nothing upon him being hired by the Red Bulls.
The Fire relented and eventually negotiated a considerable compensation package with the Red Bulls that included cash (which some sources put at approximately $500,000), a major allocation ($300,000) and the Red Bulls first-round draft pick. A hefty price and a price that would not have been paid if Osorio had not felt a sense of obligation to see Chicago compensated.
Chicago accepted that compensation from the Red Bulls, but that didn’t stop the Fire, and specifically Hauptman, from pressing the league to investigate the Red Bulls for tampering. According to sources, MLS proceeded with an investigation, interviewing several of the parties involved in Osorio’s move to the Red Bulls. The league never did penalize the Red Bulls for the alledged tampering.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Chicago’s bitterness regarding Osorio’s departure is the fact that the circumstances surrounding the Fire’s courtship of Osorio from Colombian club Millonarios were just as, if not more, questionable than Osorio’s departure to the Red Bull. According to sources, Fire president John Guppy traveled to Colombia to meet with Osorio and watch his training sessions without ever speaking to anybody at Millonarios (and also spoke to Osorio about the Fire head coaching job before he had even fired Dave Sarachan). The Fire never asked for permission to speak to Osorio while he was still Millonarios coach nor did Chicago offer any compensation when Osorio was let out of his contract by Millonarios.
Not exactly the actions of a club that should be crying foul about tampering now, are they? If anything, some would call Osorio’s subsequent departure from the Fire to the Red Bulls a touch of karma. I know Millonarios fans would.
So what now? There is no what now, not when it comes to the Fire and Red Bulls. There is merely contempt and anymosity and while there is nothing wrong with a good old soccer feud, there is just something wrong about a feud not born out of on-field battles, but off-field disputes.