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Ezra Hendrickson hire shows progress from Fire sporting director Georg Heitz

Turning to somebody with extensive MLS experience is a welcome change for Heitz, whose moves during his first two years in Chicago seemed to discount the unique challenges of the league.

Ezra Hendrickson, center, poses with sporting director Georg Heitz (right) and technical director Sebastian Pelzer.
Courtesy of the Fire

Maybe Fire sporting director Georg Heitz has recognized some of his mistakes. His first major acquisition this offseason indicates it’s a possibility.

On Wednesday, the Fire announced the hiring of Columbus Crew assistant Ezra Hendrickson as coach, giving him a two-year deal with a team option. Turning to somebody with extensive MLS experience is a welcome change for Heitz, whose moves during his first two years in Chicago seemed to ignore the unique challenges of the league.

Perhaps the best example came last offseason, when striker CJ Sapong and midfielder Djordje Mihailovic departed. Though there were understandable contractual factors that led to both moving on, the bottom line was Heitz got rid of two players familiar with the MLS landscape.

The results were predictable. Sapong scored 12 goals for Nashville SC, and Mihailovic finished second in MLS with 16 assists for CF Montreal.

Meanwhile, the young replacements for Sapong (Chinonso Offor) and Mihailovic (Stanislav Ivanov) failed to make an impact after coming from overseas leagues.

Maybe Hendrickson’s arrival means the Fire will stay closer to home for reinforcements. Or if they don’t, at least those signings will be coached by someone who knows how to win in MLS.

While the Fire have been far from trophies since 2010, the opposite has been true for Hendrickson. His résumé includes time with some of the league’s best clubs (LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Columbus) that successfully navigate the weird MLS terrain, resulting in 15 major honors as a player and coach.

“Ezra has worked in winning environments alongside some of the most accomplished managers in the league, and we are confident that he is the right person to help us achieve our goals,” Heitz said in a news release.

Unlike predecessor Raphael Wicky’s five games as a player in 2008 with Chivas USA, Hendrickson’s MLS roots run deep. He also knows what the Fire once were.

“To the Fire faithful, I know that we have a great deal of work ahead of us to get the club back to its days of MLS dominance,” Hendrickson, 49, said in a news release. “It will not be easy, but I know that your continued support of our club will be necessary and appreciated by myself, the players and the staff.”

Hendrickson’s success is not guaranteed. Nobody knows how he’ll transition from long-time assistant to first-time head coach. Even if he’s what the Fire think, Hendrickson will need a solid roster.