The Cheap Seats: Burns, baby, Burns

sounds like another Mr. Burns, an animated one). It was like a lovefest, retired-soccer-player style -- which means that after every sentence we yelled "Turn!" or "Man on!"

Soccer-speak aside, 2005 is shaping up to be a very good year for the 34-year-old Burns. Along with a return to the beloved club he captained for 5 years from 1996 to 2000, he is on the 2005 ballot for the Hall of Fame. I don't think he'll make it this time around, but it's a nice honor to be nominated. And he is really excited about making the shift from player to management, following the footsteps of his fellow former U.S. national teamers Marcelo Balboa in Colorado, Mike Lapper in Columbus, and Alexi in San Jose. (Food for thought: All the successful field-to-cubicle transitions have been made by defenders. Hmm ...)

"I just really wanted to make the transition from player to front office," Burns said. At some point, he said he'd like to climb into the upper echelons -- general manager or president of a club. "I've got a lot to learn about how this organization is run, how the league is run. I need to see behind the scenes of a team, because as a player you have thoughts about how it all works, but you never know until you're there."

For the next two weeks, Burns will shadow Joe Cummings, his outgoing predecessor. In Cummings, Burns has, in my opinion, the best in the business to learn from. For two decades, Cummings has been one of the most upstanding, genuine administrators in soccer, who also had a wonderfully vicious sense of humor. That's probably what I'll remember about my dealings with Cummings: the poignant zingers flung in every direction, including at himself. I'm sorry to see such a good guy go. But I understand how the day-to-day, cross-country realities of this game and this league can take their toll on even the toughest among us.

Luckily, he's being replaced by an equally rugged person, one of the most mentally tough players this league has ever seen. And Burns has an equally cutting wit about him, as well.

"The first thing I need to do," he told me, just two days after I did my second game as the primary color analyst for the Revs, "is get a new color guy for our TV broadcasts."

So much for buttering me up.

***

Of course, there was also a surprise change in Chicago, one that has the Fire fans in such a tizzy. If you don't know the scoop: Longtime Fire head Peter Wilt was replaced as president and CEO by John Guppy, the MetroStars former head of marketing.

To be honest, I feel for the Section 8ers on this one -- and I even support their passive-aggressive efforts for this weekend's Fire home opener, when they will all wear black but also loudly support the players. Peter Wilt, who will remain with the Fire as their GM for a transition period, is a stand-up cat who built that team from scratch, won an MLS Cup, went to the finals two other times, and helped amass the league's best fans.

The reality is that AEG, the Fire's owner/operator, simply decided to go in a new direction in preparation of the opening of the Bridgeview stadium next season. And considering AEG's track record for knowing what's what and where the buck stops it's hard to argue against it before we see what kind of leader Guppy can be.

Do I feel like Peter Wilt was hard done by? Sure. His change came as a surprise to everyone. But I have faith that he'll pop up somewhere in the soccer world. He's too good not to. And he will always be a Fire fan, I'm sure. Heck, he even met with the hardcore Fire fans yesterday at a bar in Chicago to explain things as best he could. That takes major cojones, and an underdog endeavor like soccer and MLS is always in need of men with big cojones.

Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at cheapseats@g73.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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