Fire’s player decisions, expected move to Soldier Field sets up a busy offseason

Their first offseason under Joe Mansueto comes after another disappointing season.

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Expect a busy offseason for coach Veljko Paunović and the Chicago Fire.

Courtesy of Chicago Fire Soccer Club

Even before the ownership change from Andrew Hauptman to Joe Mansueto, the Fire were headed for an interesting offseason.

Designated Players Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic are out of contract, and Aleksandar Katai has a club option for 2020. If he returns, Nicolas Gaitan will be a Designated Player, and captain Dax McCarty also has a club option. 

Combine that with Mansueto’s purchase of the team, another playoff miss, the 2020 move and possibly trying to make a splash to fill Soldier Field, and it will be an offseason in name only. 

“So I think, first of all, that the city of Chicago has a huge potential. I think it’s great that Joe (Mansueto) got in that position as well,” said Schweinsteiger, who hasn’t made a decision about his future. “He wants to change, for sure, some things and of course, at Soldier Field, we’re going to [play] there next season. But you need to improve and for sure, not everything was ideal. I think that Joe is very smart and he will for sure make the right decisions.”

The time for decisions is coming soon.

A day after Mansueto’s takeover, the Fire routed FC Dallas, 4-0, and there was actually some speculation the team was getting a boost from the ownership change. However, if any boost existed it was fleeting, and the next two games said more about the Fire (9-12-12 39 points) than the emphatic victory to open the Mansueto era.

First came the stale 0-0 draw at league-worst FC Cincinnati, followed by last Sunday’s 2-2 tie with Toronto FC that was a microcosm of another underachieving season.

Now, Sunday’s finale at Orlando City (9-14-10, 37 points) is essentially an exhibition to end the franchise’s unsuccessful decade of no trophies or even postseason victories. 

“I think we have to, more than being professional, we all play this sport because we love it, and you have to step on the field always wanting to win and giving your best,” coach Veljko Paunovic said about Sunday’s game against Orlando. “And after that, we’ll see. Obviously, there’ll be time to discuss the future.”

The futures of Paunovic and president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez will also be questioned. However, Paunovic is under contract for next year and Rodriguez is believed to be. The two have combined for one playoff appearance in four seasons, and despite a top-5 payroll, their team could finish as low as 11th in the Eastern Conference.

“The goal now is to make the playoffs, win the MLS Cup. And that’s 100 percent, want to focus on that,” Mansueto said on Sept. 16. “After the season ends, like any offseason, we’ll take stock. But I’ve really enjoyed getting to know both Nelson and Pauno over the past year.

“I believe in both of these guys. They’re talented, engaged professionals, but I think you know we look at everything. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. But again, the focus right now is on finishing the season strong.”

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