The Colorado Rapids are slouching toward the end of a dispiriting season, and because this is how sports work, fans are wondering whom should be blamed. Last week, one of them asked Rapids beat reporter Chris Bianchi for his opinion. Here's how he responded:

Before we go on, there are a couple of things to know. The most important is that is owned by MLS. The site exists to promote league propaganda as news, with game stories, features, highlights, and the like. Despite the obvious bias involved, though, it is, for some teams, the best source of news around.


The other is that Bianchi no longer works for—in part, he says, because of this tweet. We'll come back to that.

In any case, Bianchi's was a pretty lukewarm take, as these things go. It was somebody's fault that the Rapids were on a 12-game winless streak, and Bianchi felt that the Rapids front office had failed to stock the team with sufficient talent. This apparently didn't sit well with the Colorado Rapids' president, Tim Hinchey. Bianchi provided us with e-mails showing that less than half an hour after he posted that tweet, Hinchey emailed him, angrily demanding clarification and setting off an e-mail back-and-forth.


This may be a good place to note that neither Hinchey, senior editor Nick Firchau, editor-in-chief Greg Lalas, VP of MLS Digital Chris Schlosser, or MLS PR have anything to say about this subject. They've ignored all attempts to get their side of the story. At any rate, the e-mails went as follows:

From: Tim Hinchey <>
Date: Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 1:36 PM
Subject: Re: Tweet from Chris Bianchi (@Rapids_Ne
To: Chris Bianchi <>

Explain to me your point Chris or don't ever reach out to me again. Period.

From: Chris Bianchi
To: Tim Hinchey

That's fine. My point is - and has been - the lack of depth on the roster, specifically defensively, standing pat at the transfer window, and in not re-signing Rivero has been more to blame than Mastroeni's growing pains.

From: Tim Hinchey
To: Chris Bianchi

You should have the respect to call me as I've made a point to provide you behind the scenes info. Rivero was hurt all year which we had diagnoses and doesn't have Powers numbers. Had you asked me, happy to explain transfer window decisions. Regardless, disappointed with such cavalier tweet. I think we deserve better.

From: Chris Bianchi
To: Tim Hinchey

You have been great about those sorts of issues, but I do respectfully disagree. Unfortunately social media entitles me to an opinion, and I know my opinion carries a bit more weight in fan circles, but I think it's a fair one shared by other media members. And with the spell of form, I think you'd agree as well, criticism is going to come, and one direct tweet to a fan expressing my opinion on the front office vs. coaching is very minor in the grand scheme of things.

And between that and [REDACTED]'s tweet to me, I think the club's sensitivity is at an astronomical peak and frankly needs to be toned down- it smells more of blaming the messenger rather than the issue at hand. Criticism is going to come with the spell that's happened, and I think I've been more than fair about it. I've very, very firmly stood behind Pablo despite the run of form and widespread criticism for my beliefs on that. I've held stories, I've worked with you guys as well, and I am a good reporter.

From: Tim Hinchey
To: Chris Bianchi

Poor choice Chris. Leave [REDACTED] off this. I've given you direst access on and off the record consistently. No excuse. We are done here. You too are young and I hope you learn from this mistake.

From: Chris Bianchi
To: Tim Hinchey

That's a really poor decision, Tim. Disappointed in you myself. I might be young, but I am smart and I also know what I'm doing.

From: Tim Hinchey
To: Chris Bianchi

Enjoy the weather.

The last e-mail—a dig at Bianchi's daytime job as a meteorologist (he was covering the team only part-time, like most other beat reporters)—can be read as a veiled threat at Bianchi's job security. And perhaps it was.

Later that day, Bianchi received a phone call from his editor, Nick Firchau. According to Bianchi, Firchau said that the Rapids had called to talk about his e-mail exchange with Hinchey.

Firchau urged Bianchi to be patient. He told Bianchi not to go to practice the next day, Oct. 8, and to lay low over the weekend and not write about the Rapids' road game, against Chivas USA in Los Angeles. (Normally, he would've watched the game on TV and written a column and some notes afterward.) Last week, itching to get back to work, Bianchi texted Firchau asking if he could return to practice. He was told to stay in his holding pattern. Last Wednesday, Firchau called Bianchi and fired him.

Bianchi tells me that during their conversation, "while [Firchau] didn't tell me anything directly, he pinned more of the blame on the Rapids side." When Bianchi asked directly if the Rapids had pushed him out, Firchau told him, "Well, you know, this is a mutual decision." But to Bianchi, the subtext—that the Rapids played an active role in his firing—was clear.

Bianchi shared the news with the world:

Later that day, presumably after seeing Bianchi's tweets and the criticism of the Rapids that followed, Tim Hinchey called Bianchi. According to Bianchi, Hinchey was contrite. He told a different story, one in which he, not MLS, was the one to suggest that all involved cool their heels and have Bianchi spend a bit of time away from the beat. He wasn't trying to put anybody's livelihood at stake, he told Bianchi, as the writer recalls. And in any case, Hinchey told Bianchi, it was MLS that had fired him; the Rapids had no involvement.

Without any of the principals here other than Bianchi talking about this subject, it's unclear exactly what went on. What is clear is that this sort of conflict logically follows from the way the site and the league do business. Reporters for work under restrictions that govern what they're allowed to write about. (Bianchi says he was not allowed to mention salary or attendance figures, and that he couldn't call for anybody to be fired, traded, or cut.) This may not be surprising, but it does underline that is dedicated principally to serving as a marketing vehicle for the league.

It can do that effectively, too, because with MLS still working through its awkward adolescence, many teams have no dedicated beat reporters besides the one from The Denver Post, for instance, covers the Rapids with a mix of its breaking news editor, its Olympic sports reporter, and others. Even if he was working under restrictions, Chris Bianchi was at the practices, the games, and the team functions—more of them, he figures, than anyone else. Whoever succeeds him probably will be, too.

All of this creates an environment in which this league website wields real and disproportionate influence over how teams are covered and perceived. It's not that way in other major American sports. Even if the articles on or were little more than propaganda pieces—and for the most part they aren't—readers would have numerous other credentialed but unaffiliated Broncos writers to choose from. But if you're a fan of an MLS team, especially a perennially bad one, the main source of coverage is often a league-paid writer. And if this is what's expected of those writers, that coverage is probably worse than no coverage at all.

As for Hinchey and the Rapids, the playing field offers no shelter. On Saturday they lost 1-0 at home to FC Dallas, extending that winless streak to 13 games. Fed-up fans paid to have a banner flown over Dick's Sporting Goods Park in which they expressed their displeasure with Hinchey and team owner Kroenke Sports Enterprises: "You have wrecked our club," the banner read. "KSE & Hinchey out!"

If only the Rapids could control their fans as well as they apparently control their press.