There’s an old quote from comedian and director Bo Burnham.
“People love to say, ‘My fans stick with me through thick and thin.’ Do not stick with me through thick. If I stop entertaining you, throw me to the curb. You wouldn’t stick with your mechanic if he stopped fixing your car. This is a service industry.”
Well, it’s time for Chicago Fire fans to throw their team to the curb.
The day that fans had been dreading finally arrived.
On Tuesday morning, the club officially announced that they had extended the contract of sporting director Georg Heitz. They also confirmed that technical director Sebastian Pelzer will be staying, but the focus was mostly on Heitz.
The backlash was instant. Within minutes people were replying to and quoting the post, and almost every single response was negative.
Giving Heitz another season at the helm is an absolutely ridiculous decision. It isn’t like they chose to not to fire him or something, they actively gave him a new deal in order to keep him.
There’s been no success on the field since he was hired back in late-2019. Chicago has missed the playoffs every single year, despite MLS seemingly giving everyone an opportunity to make the postseason. The team couldn’t even be one of the nine best teams in a 15 team conference this past campaign. They were 13th.
It’s been like that since 2020. That year they finished in 11th. The following campaign saw them end up in 12th, and they were also 12th in 2022.
11th. 12th. 12th. 13th. That’s just in the East. The picture is even uglier when you look at the league table.
Why have results been so poor? Well, let’s look at the major signings made by Heitz during his tenure.
We don’t have to go any further than the Designated Players that have come in.
Robert Berić was first, and even though there were some signs of promise, it was clear that he wasn’t the superstar striker the club has needed. He was gone in two years.
Ignacio Aliseda was supposed to be the Fire’s answer to the trend of young South American phenoms, but he never hit the heights of others. He was alright. That’s it. He was also gone in two years.
Gastón Giménez was so disappointing that the team literally took the DP tag off him, restructuring his deal at the end of 2022. He’s improved during his time in Chicago, sure, although he’s also never been a top-tier player.
Speaking of never being a top-tier player, there’s Xherdan Shaqiri. He was the biggest signing made by Heitz by far, and the pair reunited after being together in Basel. The Swiss superstar has had a few moments of magic, but he’s never been a gamechanger, and some even argue that the team performs better without him.
Jairo Torres is a Mexican version of Aliseda, brought in to appeal to that market, but he’s somehow been worse. He’s never gotten going despite all the chances he’s had to shine, and he’s practically invisible out on the field.
Ousmane Doumbia was only signed to be a DP for six months, so he doesn’t really count. He’ll be gone this offseason, and the club won’t really miss him on the field. (He’s a good dude, though, simply the wrong place at the wrong time.)
It’s fair to say that Heitz has gone 0/6 on his Designated Player signings. That’s almost an impressive amount of disappointment.
There have been others who didn’t make as much, but still left a sour taste in the mouths of fans. Boris Sekulić. Chinonso Offor. Stanislav Ivanov. Kacper Przybyłko. Arnaud Souquet.
There’s been a few hits along the way who are still around, like Rafael Czichos and Federico Navarro, but even a broken clock is right every once in a while. Even good signings like Álvaro Medrán and Luka Stojanović were sold for some reason.
It’s not been any better on the coaching front.
The sporting director initially brought in Raphaël Wicky thanks to a connection between the two, but Wicky failed to adapt to MLS. It wasn’t all his fault, as mentioned prior with the roster issues, but things just didn’t click.
The Fire then took a chance on Ezra Hendrickson, and the story was the same. The team he was given wasn’t great, but he didn’t raise them to a higher level either.
0/2 in that department. If you add up the years where the club missed the playoffs with the failed DP signings and head coaching hires, you get a final score of 0/12.
All things considered, Heitz has been an absolute failure when it comes to success on the field. However, that’s not the Fire’s focus.
The Chicago Fire do not care about winning.
It’s as simple as that at this point.
Keeping someone like Heitz, who has failed to get results every single season, has proven it. Ownership doesn’t care that he’s missed the playoffs each year. Ownership isn’t bothered with the fact that the big-name players aren’t performing at a high level. Ownership is not worried about what takes place on the field.
They’ve practically said it themselves.
When Chicago announced the re-signing of Heitz, they put out an article to break the news and justify their actions. At no point do they mention his record on the field.
Once you get past the general facts and opening quotes, the Fire starts a paragraph with the line, “Under Heitz’s guidance, the Fire have become a leader in identifying and developing domestic and international talent.” That’s a nothing quote as it, but it also doesn’t explain why things aren’t translating to wins and points.
The article then highlights things like the clubs global scouting network, their sister side FC Lugano of the Swiss Super League, their reserve side, and a focus on developing their academy.
Alright, that all sounds nice and good, but none of that has had a real impact on the first team. That’s what truly matters.
The global scouting network hasn’t delivered any star signings. Why should a Fire fan care if a team in Switzerland is doing well? The reserve side winning games doesn’t lead to points in MLS.
Even the stated focus on the academy doesn’t mean much. Brian Gutiérrez and Chris Brady are good players, they would have made the jump up under any management that had half a brain. Plenty of other homegrowns have never been given a fair chance to prove themselves.
Speaking of those academy players, it’s not like the Fire are planning to succeed with them long-term. To quote the article again, “Leading up to the 2023 season, Chicago made back-to-back Club-record moves by transferring Academy product Gaga Slonina and teenage striker Jhon Durán to English Premier League clubs Chelsea F.C. and Aston Villa.”
The reason why Chicago is playing and developing their youngsters, like Gutierrez and Brady, is to sell them to Europe down the line. The club wants to become a feeder team, like Ajax in Holland and FC Basel in Switzerland. They buy low, and then they sell high. That brings in more youngsters, and the cycle repeats.
This is not Europe, though. Ajax and Basel do what they do because they can’t really compete at the highest level otherwise. The European game, especially at the Champions League level, is dominated by the big spenders and the teams with big-name talent. It’s the only way they can potentially win.
MLS is an entirely different ballgame. If you can make like two good signings then you’re suddenly a contender. There’s so much parity. The Fire doesn’t even need to raise funds before spending them, everyone knows the money is there regardless.
It doesn’t make sense for Chicago to flip these players like it’s real estate. What is clear is that the club cares more about selling talents than having them find real success at Soldier Field.
Lost in the heat of it all
Where does this leave supporters? Well, they’ve been put in a position where they have to try and root for a team that isn’t trying themselves.
This is no “fair weather fan” situation. It’s one thing to support a team that’s been bad for a while. It sucks to see them lose and lose again, but there’s always the hope that things will change, things will improve.
Chicago isn’t going to change. This was their chance to try and change things for the better, but they’ve decided that they’re happy enough with how things are going now. Missing the playoffs four straight seasons doesn’t matter.
The Fire doesn’t care about the team, they care about the optics of the club.
Why in the world should supporters care then? Why would anyone want to pay for tickets, drive to the stadium, and spend hours upon hours cheering for a team that doesn’t care if they live or if they die? What happens on the field is irrelevant to ownership, but it’s the on-field product that fans are there for.
No fan in Chicago will start celebrating if FC Lugano goes on to win the Swiss league. The reserve side doing well is nice, but any supporter would take a winless season at that level if it meant that the first team was doing better. Bringing in a bunch of exciting teenagers and homegrowns won’t matter if they’re gone before they accomplish anything here.
Fire fans have already been through the ringer. They haven’t seen a playoff win since 2009, and they’ve only seen a total of two playoff games in that span, which both ended in home losses. They went through one of the worst rebrands in sports history at the end of 2019, and even though the logo was changed after a year, they still had to see their team play in the wrong color jersey for four seasons.
However, at least they knew that the club was trying in those years. Chicago was making stupid decisions, but the goal of trying to win games was still there. That’s not the case anymore.
There’s a real sense of loyalty in the Fire fanbase. Supporters are proud of themselves for sticking by their team no matter what, no matter how bad it gets.
They don’t owe the club anything. This is not a one-way street, this is a relationship. The fans provide support, and the club rewards that support by trying their best to succeed on the field. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
Chicago isn’t holding up their end of the bargain anymore. They’ve continued to show that they aren’t bothered with how their fans feel about things. If they did then Heitz would’ve been let go months ago. Monterrey Security would’ve been let go months ago.
If you knew someone in your life who continued to treat you badly and made you feel awful time and time again, and you know they’re not going to change their ways, you would no longer be with that person.
You wouldn’t stick with your mechanic if he stopped fixing your car.
It feels like part of the reason the Fire continues to act this way is because they know they’ll still retain a good chunk of their fanbase regardless. The fact that anyone is still around at this point is remarkable. There’s been some backlash, but it doesn’t seem like a full-on protest of the team is coming anytime soon.
The other thing is that Chicago might not worry about losing their diehard supporters if they keep attracting more casual fans on a weekly basis. When Inter Miami and Lionel Messi were coming to town, the club focused its marketing on the iconic player and getting people to the stadium to see him, not the Fire.
That led to an attendance of over 60,000 at Soldier Field on a Wednesday night, even though Messi didn’t end up playing. Did the organization care that most of those fans were there in Messi jerseys to potentially see their hero? Nope. 60,000 tickets is 60,000 tickets no matter what sort of fan is buying them.
If the Fire can get random families who don’t care what the score is to watch games when the weather is nice, then that’ll make up for any former supporters who stop showing up, at least in their eyes.
That’s all I’ve got really. I know I have no real right to tell anyone who they can and cannot support. I used to be a Fire season ticket holder myself until the aforementioned rebrand, so I’ve already made my escape. I just cover the team now.
What I will end with is this.
It’s perfectly ok to give up on a sports team that has given up on you.
It’s perfectly ok to give up on your mechanic when he stops fixing your car.