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Chicago Fire staffer rants at fans, defends owner on team website

Chicago Fire goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi allows goal Vancouver Whitecaps' KekutManneh Gambiduring second half an MLS soccer game Vancouver British ColumbiSunday

Chicago Fire goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi allows a goal to Vancouver Whitecaps' Kekuta Manneh, of Gambia, during the second half of an MLS soccer game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday July 14, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

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Updated: August 22, 2013 8:30PM

Since he bought the Fire in 2007, Andrew Hauptman has been under increasing scrutiny for personnel decisions, the alleged mistreatment of team employees and the Fire’s considerable front-office turnover.

That all seemed to come to a head during the 2-0 loss Aug. 7 to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup at Toyota Park. Sitting in a suite at the stadium, Hauptman was chastised by a number of fans in the stands. He lives in Los Angeles and doesn’t attend every game.

The issue wasn’t addressed until Wednesday night, when Fire senior director of communications Dan Lobring, hired six months ago after some organizational reshuffling, wrote an editorial on the team’s website defending ownership.

“Ownership and family were at the game,” Lobring wrote. “And, yes, fans have a right to boo and show how disappointed they are, especially when the club they love doesn’t perform up to expectations.

“But are personal attacks, threats, accusations, etc., that happened at that Open Cup game OK? Are shouting obscenities to staff, our owner and his family or other supporters attending games with their families the norm? There’s a fine line between love and hate and being critical vs. being destructive. Certain incidents in particular related to that game have given me and others at the club pause.”

Lobring and club COO Atul Khosla only admit to a tenuous connection between the incident with Hauptman on Aug. 7 and the editorial. Instead, both say it was prompted by alleged emails from season-ticket holders expressing concern over safety.

Khosla, whom Lobring insisted be present for any interview, said Hauptman didn’t instruct Lobring to write the editorial but knew about it before it was published.

Numerous ex-Fire employees, who wouldn’t comment to the Sun-Times on the record for fear of litigation, said Hauptman is image-conscious. One former Fire employee, who didn’t work under Hauptman but has close ties to the organization, said that could be Hauptman’s shortcoming.

“That’s Andrew’s downfall as an owner: He thinks he can control the message when there’s word of mouth to undermine his efforts,” the source said.

Hauptman publicly speaks about continuity within the organization, but employment history during his regime indicates otherwise.

Since Hauptman bought the Fire, the team has gone through four presidents and is without a president. Khosla is the highest-ranking executive working out of Chicago. The Fire has had four coaches during the Hauptman era.

On June 2, Hauptman hosted former Philadelphia Union coach Peter Nowak in his suite to watch a 2-0 victory over D.C. United. Hauptman insists Nowak, who played for the Fire from 1998 to 2002, was there as his guest.

The Fire sits five points behind the Houston Dynamo for the fifth and final playoff spot and plays a key game Friday against Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City at Toyota Park.

The importance of the game makes the timing of Lobring’s letter even more questionable.

“Part of that [editorial] has kind of been misconstrued,” Lobring said. “I’ve been sort of unabashedly saying that before I came to the Fire, I was new to MLS and new to soccer. And I think because of that or because of people’s misconceptions about ownership or the front office from Day 1, there was a target on my back or this was sort of the sentiment out there.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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