Chicago Fire fans were excited for the future at the end of last season, but now, their sense of hope has morphed into a sense of fear. Even at this early stage of the offseason, is it time to panic already?
There is nothing that fills a sports fanbase with more hope than the end of a dreadful season. No matter how bad their team was, supporters start to believe that a solid offseason could be all it takes to turn things around. That happens on some occasions, but more often than not, the team doesn’t actually improve, and the cycle restarts a year later.
That is precisely what has happened with the Chicago Fire. They ended the 2019 season in disappointing fashion, missing the playoffs despite having a talented roster. But supporters had more reason to hope than in years prior.
The club finally underwent a change in ownership as Joe Mansueto took control. They then announced that they were finally moving back into the city, returning to Soldier Field, underwent a rebrand, which, while largely criticised, at least showed an intent to invest and recreate, and have stated their intentions to recruit heavily before the start of the 2020 season.
These big changes — and the promise of the future changes — brought tons of optimism. Fans started to believe in the Chicago Fire. But since then, such hope has slowly dissipated, so much so that fans are starting to worry that it is already time to smash the panic button.
Most concerningly, the roster is in utter shambles at the moment. Since the end of last season,13 players have left the Fire. Meanwhile, only two signings have been made. One of them is homegrown defender Nicholas Slonina, who is 18 and likely won’t see much time on the field next season. The other new acquisition is Alvaro Medran, who has potential to perform but was still a free transfer.
It is not like the Chicago Fire refuses to spend money. Reports have stated that Mansueto is ready to invest in the team. The problems are more operational than motivational.
Chicago has become famous for missing out on their biggest targets. That hasn’t changed this offseason. They were linked with Liga MX Golden Boot winner Alan Pulido for weeks, but he ultimately decided to join Sporting Kansas City. There’s also JJ Macias, who is already a Mexican international at the age of 20 and would a dream signing for the Fire. They have been forced to deal with a harsh reality instead, as he is set to stay with Chivas Guadalajara. With their two main targets off the table already, Chicago has to reset things and find other options.
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But recruiting players is only half the problem. The club is searching for a technical director, the absence of which will inevitably be hurting their search for new playing talent. Then there is the head coaching vacancy. Ridding of former manager Veljko Paunovic was the right decision, but the timing was weird. The Fire waited a number of weeks after the season to finally sack Paunovic. That meant less time to find a replacement before the real work of the offseason begun.
The scary thing is that no names are even being linked with the job at the moment. The usually revolving rumor mill has frozen. No one really knows who the new head coach of the Chicago Fire could be, and given that the season ended two months ago, that is extremely concerning.
The longer the vacancy isn’t filled, the harder it is to sign players and the less time the new head coach has to adapt to life with the Fire. That would likely lead to a poor start next season, and Chicago cannot risk digging themselves into an early hole at Soldier Field.
And this all this comes under the overarching rebrand, which features a dreadful new logo. The only thing worse than its design has been the Fire’s response to complaints from fans, which has been no response at all. It did not matter how much supporters hated the rebrand, the front office was going to go through with it.
The clock, then, is ticking, and there is still much that needs to be done. There are 79 days until the Fire kick off the 2020 season away to the Seattle Sounders, the reigning MLS Cup champions. If things don’t improve soon, Chicago fans will quickly see their sense of optimism morph into a sense of panic. And at this point, you can hardly blame them.