By: Hayden Krzyzanowski
The Chicago Fire are another struggling Chicago sports franchise with too many issues to be solved over the course of a single season. Owned by Joe Mansueto, a Chicagoland businessman, the Fire haven’t had any success in the last 6-7 years. They reached the playoffs in 2017 while former German international Bastian Schweinsteiger was the captain for this gritty team. Since then, the Fire are in desperate need of a resuscitation within the Front Office.
With their last 3 games of the season being Inter Miami, Charlotte, and NYCFC in this 2023 season, they needed all the points they could manage to sneak into the playoffs. They dispatched Inter Miami easily at a sold-out Soldier Field on October 4th while breaking the all-time Chicago Fire attendance record at 62,124. Xherdan Shaqiri and Marren Haile-Salassie both scored 2 goals, winning the match for the Fire 4-1. Continuing their homestand against Charlotte FC on October 7th, they needed 3 points to all but secure playoff hopes. Nothing fell their way and Charlotte secured another victory at Soldier Field, 2-0.
NYCFC has suddenly become a must-win game on October 21st. They’ll need other results to fall their way to sneak into the playoffs which means we’re paying close attention to Montreal, New York Red Bulls, NYCFC, and Charlotte FC.
If you’re interested in more of my thoughts, check out Episode 16 of the Ultras FC Podcast. I go a little more in-depth of what is needed for Chicago to make it through and how they can do it.
Where does this all trickle back to? That’s not a definitive source, but there is definitely someone to blame for this season’s woes. Sporting Director Georg Heitz and Technical Director Sebastian Pelzer are two people who should be heavily considered as culprits for all the issues with the club at this moment. Their current standing within the club is currently in question after the rough season, spending little money and going through a coaching change midway through the season.
Tom Bogert of The Athletic wrote briefly about the prospect of Heitz and Pelzer returning for the 2024 season, but nothing is confirmed. If I had to find one positive from the duo about the season, it would be the new training facility being built for the team. There will have to be an overhaul to either replace them or find someone to go under them to make sure the decisions that are being made are the financially correct ones.
Speaking of correct decisions, The Fire have a long search ahead of them for their next Head Coach. Interim Head Coach Frank Klopas took over for Ezra Hendrickson midway through the season after a string of poor results led to him being fired. This would become Klopas’ third time taking over the club as head coach as he replaced Carlos de los Cobos in 2011, Raphael Wicky in 2021, and now Hendrickson during this season.
The ‘Ring of Fire’ inductee, or the Fire Hall of Fame for those unaware, has been an ever-present force around the club and I don’t see him leaving the staff after this season. He will remain on the sideline, reverting back to his assistant coach role and helping the new Head Coach whenever they are selected.
Focusing more on the team now, we’ve had a huge turnover of players due to the odd and strict contract rules within the league. We’ve had key players over the last decade or so such as Schweinsteiger, Nikolic, Shaqiri, Slonina, Accam, CJ Brown, Friedrich, Magee, etc. that have really put the Fire on the map. Now, we’re struggling to keep hold of these high-profile players due to our performances and inconsistencies with the club as a whole.
If we’re looking at our current squad, I see a handful of players jumping ship. Starting in goal, Spencer Richey I can’t imagine will be with this team after the season as he may look for a starting job next year. In the few performances he has had for the Fire, he has stood out and I don’t see a reason why he cannot go somewhere else. The Naperville native, Chris Brady, is likely to remain at the club for another year alongside Bartlett native Jeffrey Gal.
Defensively, we are pretty stocked on all positions. I don’t imagine we’ll see too much turnover, other than an additional left-back to replace Aceves, who was only on loan from Pachuca. Wyatt Omsberg may leave due to his contract running down and he hasn’t solidified a starting position at center back. Moving up the field, I expect the midfield to get a huge turnover as Doumbia isn’t returning for next season. He was on loan from FC Lugano in Switzerland. Jairo Torres will most likely be sold due to poor performances and I see one of Allan Rodriguez, Javier Casas, and Sergio Oregel being sold to clear room for more homegrown talent to pull through.
Allen, Javier, and Sergio have been with the starting squad for two years and haven’t made much of an impact. I don’t have specific players in mind who could step into this midfield currently, but down the line, as the restricted and unrestricted free agents are released to the public, it may become another conversation.
Moving into the attacking third, Kamara was only here for the year, same with Haile-Selassie. I see Haile-Selassie sticking around after scoring (as of now) 6 goals and assisting 3 times—a good return for a loanee from FC Lugano. Brian Gutierrez has been one of the highlights of the season with his flair, skills, and general positivity within the side. He turned 20 over the summer and has shown his ability on the ball will help drive the team forward, once they figure their striker issue. Koutsias, Kamara, and Przyblyko have been splitting time with no consistency. Whoever comes in to coach this team will have that highlighted as one of their main focus points for this upcoming 2024 season.
The Chicago Fire aren’t in complete shambles in fairness, however, their struggles off the field are leaking onto the pitch and making this franchise hard to follow. With ticket prices fluctuating around $30-40 dollars per game, not including parking at Soldier Field, this team has a lot to do to clean up what mess has been left behind by Hauptman and the previous staff.