Osorio hears the boo birds at Toyota Park
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- For the first time since leaving the Chicago Fire in December to become coach of the Red Bulls, Juan Carlos Osorio faced his former fans in the same stadium he helped turn the Fire from a last-place team to an Eastern Conference finalist. The boos rained down as Osorio's name was announced before the game. Even the cheers following Chicago's victory sounded just a touch louder as the Fire sent Osorio back to New York with a 1-0 loss.
Although Fire fans have yet to forgive Osorio for leaving Chicago to join a conference rival after just half a season, what Osorio's former Fire players had to say about him after the game provided a glimpse at a coach who left a positive impression on the club he once led.
"He's [Osorio] a fantastic manager and a great coach who really helped this team," Fire defender Bakary Soumare said. "He came here last year and did a great job.
"I don't know what the people are saying out there, but at the end of the day, it's a business," Soumare said. "You have to do what's best for you and best for your family, and he went that route."
Saturday's defeat dropped the Red Bulls six points behind Chicago in the East standings, but there is no denying that the club Osorio has put together is an improved one taking on the personality of its coach. The Red Bulls entered Saturday unbeaten in six matches and set a new season high in MLS for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal. That record was 380 straight minutes before Diego Jimenez's wayward clearance fell to Stephen King for a wide-open chance he buried.
As for returning to Toyota Park for the first time since leading the Fire to a 1-0 playoff victory against D.C. United on Oct. 25, Osorio had only positive things to say.
"That really didn't bother me a bit," Osorio said of the boos directed at him. "This is professional sports, and that's part and parcel of the game.
"This is a democratic country," Osorio said. "Anybody has something to say, and football is a very subjective game, so they are more than entitled to express their opinion."
Osorio is thankful for the positive memories he has of his tenure with the Fire. "We came here. We did a job, and it was a good job. Now there's a different story. Now they have a very good coaching staff and are doing very well. Now we move on, they move on and hopefully that will be it."
Chicago doesn't have much to complain about regarding Osorio's move at this point. His departure cleared the way for Denis Hamlett to become the head coach. Hamlett has steered the Fire to second place in the East and has the club looking like a title contender.
Osorio is enjoying his new position as well. He has added four new players who have all contributed to the team's recent run of success and is happy in New York, Saturday's loss notwithstanding.
"[The Red Bulls] have treated me well, and I don't regret the move," Osorio said. "I'm very, very proud to be the head coach here and my family is very happy, which is the most important thing to me.
"They enjoy themselves, and they can come to games and share the experience with our family," Osorio said. "My biggest concern was my family, and they are doing really well, so I am happy."
Osorio will make one more trip to Toyota Park this season for the Oct. 23 regular-season finale. The fans still may boo him then, but if current signs are any indication, Osorio's departure from Chicago has worked out fine for both the Fire and the Red Bulls.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives and can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.