In the wake of the Fire blowing points at home again this weekend, assessing Denis Hamlet is a timely subject. The 2-2 draw at Toyota Park with the Crew, gives Columbus the inside track on winning its second consecutive Supporters Shield and the Eastern Conference.
Denis Hamlet was always a second choice hire. The longtime assistant that was only chosen by the Fire after more attractive candidates including Dynamo assistant John Spencer had turned down the job. Hamlet who has been in the Fire organization since the inception of the franchise had played with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the APSL (now USL-1) and Colorado Rapids.
When you promote a longtime assistant, the transition is usually smooth, but the long term affects often times are the problem. Hamlet did well by bringing Wilman Conde back into the fold after the Colombian defender had openly sulked about Juan Carlos Osorio’s move to New Jersey, looking to be re-united with him.
The Fire has won the second most trophies of any active MLS franchise while always marinating excellent squad depth. Peter Wilt, the team’s GM from 1998 to 2005 was able to asses draft talent well and sign quality internationals to enhance his squad. While Chicago’s talent level may have dropped off somewhat since those early days, the team still is deeper than most in MLS and more complete than perhaps anyone in the league.
This has allowed Hamlet to be aggressive on the road. The Fire in each of the last two seasons have not setup for a draw like so many MLS teams and coaches do away from home. But at the same time, Chicago has fallen into the trap of the negative tactics from the opposition at Toyota Park, leaving with far too many draws and even in some cases, a home loss.
The recent bust up with Bakary Soumare, as well as Chris Rolfe’s decision to sign abroad have many questioning Hamlet’s command over the dressing room. Transitioning from a longtime assistant to top man is never easy, especially when you have been in an organization for so long. We’ve seen former loyal assistants fall down on the job in the NFL (Richie Pettibone with the Redskins comes to mind instantly), College Football ( Ron Zook, anyone, or how about Gary Gibbs?) or even English Football (Chris Hutchings, Sammy Lee, etc) .
Hamlet has fared better than most of the examples I have listed. But the question is now, can he transition from managing a team that flourished under Dave Sarachan and Juan Carlos Osorio, to putting his own mark on the side? Dropping points at home and struggling to make an impact in the playoffs doesn’t help, nor does the possibility of three consecutive trophy-less seasons. After all, the Fire won 6 trophies in its first nine seasons of existence, so the standard of excellence established at Toyota Park isn’t for example like the standard of the Metrostars/Red Bulls.
Denis Hamlet knows how important winning is for the Chicago Fire, and probably realizes he best turn this thing around soon. No offense to any of our readers, but Chicago is not Columbus or Salt Lake City. If the Fire want to find a good manager, it is likely they will this time around.