CHICAGO – The hope, as it is will every team in Major League Soccer last spring, was that the middle of November would be spent preparing for the league’s playoffs.
Chicago Fire FC is not doing so, and it’s been an unfortunate trend for the club, as they missed the postseason for a fourth-straight season and the ninth time in their last ten seasons. The club hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2009 season, having lost knockout round matches in 2012 and 2017.
Hence why the team once again has made major changes for the second time in just under two years, with a new manager and a host of new players needed ahead of the 2022 season.
Already the club will need to find a new manager after Raphael Wicky was fired on September 30th, with Frank Klopas taking over only on an interim basis to finish the season. He’ll return as an assistant but won’t be under consideration to keep the full time manager job.
On the field, the team has already made the decision to let nine players go elsewhere in 2022, starting with letting defender Johan Kappelhof and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth test free agency. Seven player options were declined including the club’s two leading scorers – forward Robert Berić and midfielder Luka Stojanovic. Defenders Francisco Calvo, Nick Slonina, midfielders Alvaro Medran, Elliot Collier, goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm didn’t have their contract options picked up.
This will leave sporting director Georg Heitz the job of another roster overhaul just two years after doing the same following the departure of the previous regime at the end of the 2019 season.
The group will have to start by finding that manager, which will be their third in four seasons.
“I think for me to have experience, to know the league and to have also experience, I think is important. You’re coming into a big club with — I feel with big objectives to reach. We have an owner that’s been amazing, and we are in a great city and a city that is massive, that’s huge. The soccer community there, it’s massive,” said Klopas when asked about possible characteristics of a new manager. “We have to be able to unite the soccer community. Whoever they hire, I feel has to have the league and also experience to come into a job like this because whoever it is, just know that they are going to have the backing and support from all of us to help them to try to reach the objective, which is next year, this club, and every year, has to be competing for championships.
“In order to do that, we have to be a team that’s consistently in the playoffs. That’s one part. How we get there, you know, how we build this team, I think our owner is big; he cares about the community. He cares about building the team with home grown players and we have to do a good job in developing those players, identifying them, and I think that’s a great objective because we have a massive soccer community. It’s a big market. It’s a big city.”
Already the club is heavy on homegrown players with nine on the current roster, including goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, midfielder Brian Gutierrez, forward Alex Monis defenders Mauricio Pineda, and Andre Reynolds. They’ll join other returners like team MVP Federico Navarro, forward Ignacio Aliseda, and veterans Gaston Gimenez along with defender Jonathan Bornstein, who remains on the roster on the moment.
Things could obviously change as the offseason continues, but the homegrown players do help provide a few stable pieces as the team moves forward in building back towards the top of the MLS.
“I think it’s a big step, signing all these Homegrowns. I think it’s good for us. It gives us motivation and motivation towards the next future people that are coming,” said Gutierrez. “I think it’s exciting and it’s an honor to represent this club and it’s an honor to represent my hometown.”