Nelson Rodriguez: Move to city won’t be ‘salve’ for Fire

Rodriguez, the Fire president and general manager, said the franchise has “a lot of other work that we need to do” before their 2-2 draw with Columbus Crew SC.

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Fire president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez speaks during Wednesday’s media roundtable.

Chicago Fire Soccer Club

During a media roundtable Wednesday afternoon, Fire president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked repeatedly about the franchise’s possible shift to Soldier Field. He said the club has entered preliminary talks to use the facility. He also implied the Fire want to resolve their 2020 home as quickly as possible, and wasn’t immediately focused on a new soccer-specific facility.

Rodriguez also acknowledged the lakefront will not instantly fix the franchise.

“We do not believe that moving to the city is a salve for all of our issues,” Rodriguez said before the Fire’s 2-2 draw with Columbus Crew SC. “We know that there’s a lot of other work that we need to do. Our strategic plan has very specific tactics around that.”

Rodriguez is right. The Fire (5-9-8, 23 points) have plenty to do on and off the field.

They entered Wednesday night last in MLS in attendance with an average of 11,572 per game. The announced total Wednesday was 7,482 in Bridgeview. After a decade of mediocre soccer and issues with the club, fans are frustrated with the franchise.

Soldier Field might be in a better location and introduce the Fire to new people, but it won’t automatically create supporters and inspire old ones to return.

“We have to have a product that resonates with the fans. That starts with winning,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone equates winning with quality, with being good, with entertaining. We have to find ways to win, do so in a representative style that the fans and the public of Chicago will appreciate, but it’s a lot of different factors coming together.”

Winning has been a challenge for the Fire over the last decade, and Wednesday was no different. 

They took a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute on a Djordje Mihailovic goal, but allowed Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes to equalize in the 47th. Nicolas Gaitan set up CJ Sapong for his 63rd-minute strike, but the Crew’s Romario Williams’ 90th-minute score gave the Fire just one point in two games against the bottom pair of teams in the East.

Again, they heard boos at the final whistle.

“We know who we are, and what’s happening to us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We are aware that we have to get better.”

Rodriguez said he met with the team two days after their U.S. Open Cup loss to Saint Louis FC. He told everybody he still had confidence in them but needed to see changes within five games, a stretch that ended Saturday against FC Cincinnati.

The Fire went 1-3-1 over that time, capped by the 2-1 loss to Cincinnati.

“While the effort and intention was there, the results weren’t,” Rodriguez said. “Our team, and the entire league, knows that we’re open for business.”

What that brings isn’t obvious.

Asked twice about Paunovic’s status, Rodriguez dismissed both questions. On Wednesday, the Fire dealt midfielder Mo Adams to Atlanta for $100,000 in 2020 General Allocation Money, but that won’t do much to alter the season.

“No, we don’t believe the season’s lost by any stretch,” Rodriguez said. “While our urgency is higher, we’re still only four points off a playoff spot. That can easily be achieved, and we’re going to play every game to win every game as we have done in the past.”

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