The 2020 MLS season is nearly upon us. The Chicago Fire had an eventful off-season with a couple highs but many more lows…..
- 9/13/2019: The reign of Hauptman ended. After buying 49% of the club in 2018 for an estimated $118m, Joe Mansueto bought the remaining 51% for $204m. #CF97 twitter was elated. We had survived a terrible ownership group and were going to have a local owner who seemed like he was all in on turning the Fire back into a top MLS team.
- 9/29/2019: Officially eliminated from playoff contention. The club only made the playoffs twice in the 2010s and both of those were losses in the knockout round. In the first 12 years of existence, Chicago only missed the playoffs once and were always in contention for MLS Cup.
- 10/8/2019: The Fire agreed to pay Bridgeview $60.5m and $5m to “refurbish and expand” stadium and surrounding facilities to break their restrictive lease. The club will play for the foreseeable future at Soldier Field… again. Fans were a little mixed on the move back with no plan for a soccer specific stadium in place but seemed to give Mansueto the benefit of the doubt. This guy included, as I put down a deposit for season tickets for the first time in several years. Soldier Field is pretty big, I assumed they would bring in a high profile player to help fill the stadium and start a big marketing campaign to drive awareness.
It is at this point the off-season took a dive. All the goodwill built up by new ownership was about to evaporate.
- 11/13/2019: Vejko Paunovic and his staff are fired. This happened more than 5 weeks after the season ended. This by itself isn’t a huge deal at first but it just snowballs into one.
- 11/21/2019: REBRAND. I thought the leaks were bad but the official release and explanations made everything worse. Was I over reacting? Apparently not. The club had a whole roll out planned with videos, photoshoots and other social media posts across all platforms. Every single post was met with negative reactions from not just Fire fans but soccer fans all across the world. Even official MLS club accounts were poking fun of the logo. The team tried to sell it hard with their roll out and backstory to the rebrand but, to me, it somehow made it worse. They boasted about spending 18 months working on it with focus groups and a big design firm with no ties to Chicago. Not to mention the official name changed as well: “Chicago Fire Football Club.” Another club with “Football” in their name even though they play in “Major League SOCCER.” I cannot think of a worse rebrand, part of that is the club going full steam with it unlike other bad rebrands where clubs admit some fault. In a recent interview, Mansueto seemed to acknowledge the blow back to the logo and appeared open to a change if fans are still unhappy. He admitted these types of things have long lead times and cannot be quickly changed. Adding credence to the rumor of this rebrand being put in motion before he gained majority ownership. Regardless, the new badge is shit but as long as Mansueto fixes it, I can move past it if he builds team that can compete for titles again.
- 12/20/2019: Fire officially announce a Sporting director, Georg Heitz, and move Nelson Rodriguez to the business side of the club but he keeps his President position. Many fans, this one included, agree with Ruben from HTIOT, Nelson needed to be fired. Rodriguez has damaged the link between supporters and the FO. As a Hauptman hire, Rodriguez will always carry a connection to the worse period in Fire history and until he is gone, the club cannot fully leave that period in the past. The hire of Heitz was well received in MLS circles but one thing has always been clear of outside hires: it takes time to learn all the roster machinations of MLS. Oh, did I mention MLS is in the middle of negotiating a new CBA? Heitz was hired with about 4 weeks left before pre-season started. Do I like the hire? Yes. Are we at a disadvantage due to the timing? Yes.
- 12/27/2019: A head coach is finally named: Ralph Wicky. A full 82 days after the season ended and 22 days before players report for pre-season. They also named a Technical Director the next day, Sebastian Pelzer. The hires are coming in fast but not too much movement on the player front…
- 1/9/2020: The Fire still only have 17 players under contract. That includes 3 homegrown players in their teens and no Designated Players. With pre-season less than 2 weeks away, the clock is ticking. Season Ticket sales are rumored to be towards the bottom of the league and sentiment towards the logo has not improved at all. This was suppose to an off-season of new beginnings and higher expectations. Instead it appears like any of the last 10 off-seasons. Do I still have faith in the new owner/FO? Yes but that tank of goodwill is creeping close to “E” and in need of something to fill it back up.