Forget the 20-something, sun-splashed, tipsy masses spilling into the street in Wrigleyville.
Wicker Park is Chuck Taylors and Wes Anderson and Fleet Foxes, all tucked into tight jeans, sipping vodka-sodas at the Gold Star on Division Street.
And no self-respecting Chicagoan parties in the Loop.
Chivas USA are in town this weekend and the Chicago Fire are back from the dead. That absolutely makes the Windy City neighborhood to watch for this weekend Pilsen, a place where young artists are mingling with the city’s largest pocket of Mexican-Americans and where the names Martin Vasquez and Carlos de los Cobos have carried cache for years.
Chicago’s a city where you can choose Polish as the selected language on the corner ATM. Germans laid down the groundwork for Old Town, perhaps Chicago’s most historically preserved neighborhood after somehow escaping only singed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
But Mexican-Americans stake their claim in Pilsen, home to Chicago’s largest Latino community and a neighborhood inevitably penciled in for the city’s latest phase of gentrification. This weekend, 18th Street should be abuzz with chatter about Saturday’s Chicago Fire-Chivas USA match. After all, the Fire fans in Pilsen are desperately looking for someone to replace Cuauhtémoc Blanco in their hearts.
Blanco energized Chicago’s fan base for more than two seasons, helping on the field, at the gate and at the till as official Cuau jerseys flew off the racks at Toyota Park. His departure last year left an undeniable void for Mexican-American fans, who flocked in droves to Bridgeview and made it their second home on Saturday nights every summer.
Bienvenidos, señor de los Cobos. The new Fire boss has admirable, if not impeccable, chops, having coached at Club América and Tigres—though not for long at either place—and he was an assistant coach for El Tri at the 1998 World Cup.
His biggest asset, though, is his resonance with the Fire’s Mexican-American fans, who have defined the club’s success at the turnstiles for years. Long before Blanco’s arrival, there was always a significant clamoring among Chicago’s more than one million Mexican-Americans: Enough Eastern Europeans. Give us a real Mexican star.
They got their hero—and more—with Blanco. De los Cobos, however, is a coach, and, at least so far, MLS coaches fail to swagger like their European or Mexican counterparts can. There are no Sir Alexes or self-proclaimed Special Ones strutting in MLS technical areas. De los Cobos will never make a mark on the team and the city as indelible as Blanco did, with all the subtlety of a tequila shot at breakfast.
Unless he wins.
The Fire franchise is rooted in its trophied history, and it pines for a return to glory. C.J. Brown still starts, 13 years later. Logan Pause still adores Chris Armas, who still adores Peter Nowak. Peter Wilt still parties with Section 8. Kid Klopas is the team’s technical director now.
De los Cobos now has a chance to carve his own mark into the Fire’s history, and all the fond nostalgia that comes with it. We’re not even into the dog days of summer, but is it too early to say the Fire are suddenly looking like the team most MLS supporters believed they could be? De los Cobos has a wide-reaching fan base and a passionate neighborhood wondering the same thing, all hoping he can offer some reason to spill out into 18th Street and celebrate.
Bottoms Up: Michelada
Summer is creeping in across the country, and it begs for the right drink to sip at soccer stadiums. The Chelada-style beer seems primed for the title, if you can avoid its not-so-subtle shove into the mass market. This is a famously do-it-yourself drink. A light beer goes with one or more of the following: pepper, salt, lime, Tabasco, celery salt, Clamato or tomato juice. Mix and match until it fits the specifications to welcome May with open arms and a fuzzy head.
We’re Watching: Floyd Mayweather vs. Shane Mosley
Forget the mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby. There is always room on a crowded Saturday schedule for a big-time fight. No, Mosley’s not putting his WBA welterweight title belt on the line in this one, but Mayweather’s putting both his undefeated 40-0 record and his big mouth at risk. “I can't help that it's so one-sided they say the fight is boring,” Mayweather said this week. “That's not my fault. I'm just that good.”
Listen Up: The 1900s, Cold & Kind
Depending on your familiarity with the infamous job requirements of Stevie Nicks’ personal roadie, it’s either a curse or a blessing that critics have dubbed the 1900s a modern day Fleetwood Mac. Simply put, their 2007 album is modern indie pop done better than a host of pretenders—and any Chicago neighborhood can agree on that.
Nick Firchau is a new media editor at MLSsoccer.com. The Weekender takes off, naturally, every Friday.