Sporting director Georg Heitz thinks the Fire will need some time to click. Just not that much.
“Always, you can’t wait before the start of the season,” Heitz told the Sun-Times. “I know this sounds like an alibi or excuse, but we’ll need a bit of time. We have so many new people, so many new players. We’ll need a bit of time, but we won’t need until August until we’ll be at top (form). We will be a (good) side this year.”
Few teams in MLS history have gone through as much change in one offseason as the Fire, who open the season Sunday at reigning MLS Cup-champion Seattle. Heitz was one of the biggest additions, officially joining the franchise on Dec. 20 to take over soccer operations after the Fire slogged through an underwhelming 2019.
Since coming to Chicago, Heitz has hired coach Raphael Wicky, signed three designated players, and rebuilt the team in slightly more than two months. The full roster won’t be seen Sunday because of visa issues for defender Boris Sekulic, attacker Ignacio Aliseda and midfielder Luka Stojanovic, but the group that eventually defines the season will be a Heitz production.
Heitz said he and technical director Sebastian Pelzer assembled the team so quickly thanks in part to their respective networks and connections. The condensed offseason, Heitz said, didn’t affect how he assembled the roster.
“When you hire somebody as a sporting director, you also rely on his network that you also hire,” Heitz said. “I had a lot of help and support from, for example, Sebastian Pelzer. We’ve been in this business for a long time and we always always, even when we’re not working for a club, we’re always looking for players. Most of the players we knew before that we signed.”
There were also some traits the new players shared.
For one, Heitz said the Fire preferred not to sign players over 31 this transfer window because of the league’s physical requirements and challenges such as travel, time zones, weather conditions and even altitude. He also said the Fire focused on players they think are team players.
“Maybe not the big names,” Heitz said, “but (players) who are hungry for success and have winning experience, who will contribute to the success of this club.”
As Heitz alluded to, none of the signings would qualify as household names. Entering the offseason, there was a school of thought that the Fire needed to sign a glitzy big name to energize the franchise and draw fans to Soldier Field.
Heitz sees things a little differently.
“We’re trying to bring the fans into Soldier Field by winning matches and by being successful, by playing an attractive style,” Heitz said. “This is one thing, because a name is a name. A name can help you, this is clear. It can help you in the beginning, but if you sign big names then afterwards you are not successful, I don’t think that fans would come just because you have signed a big name. Our focus was on the skills of the players and the mentality of the players and not on the name of the players.”
Whether or not Heitz is correct, it’s clear he didn’t need much time to put his stamp on the Fire this offseason.
“Of course, it has been busy, but they always say it’s a privilege to work in soccer,” Heitz said. “At that time of year, you’re always busy, whether you are new or not. You’re always busy. So, it’s nothing to complain about. It was also fun. It was not only work, it was also fun.”