Georg Heitz, Fire gambling by keeping midfielder Gaston Gimenez
There are reasons the Gimenez signing could pan out, but if Gimenez struggles again, it would be another Heitz error and set the Fire back.
Sporting director Georg Heitz and the Fire have cleaned out much of a bad roster, but keeping designated player Gaston Gimenez has the potential to be a dud decision and a negative turning point this offseason.
By dumping underachieving DP Ignacio Aliseda onto Swiss partner club FC Lugano on Monday, the Fire opened up a DP spot for the second time this offseason (after parting with Robert Beric). Moving Aliseda off the books was a must, and by transferring him to Lugano, the Fire can keep close tabs on him while he stays in the organization.
“After many discussions with Ignacio, we were all in agreement that this was the right time for a new challenge,” Heitz said in a news release. “This move allows Ignacio to continue his development in a competitive European league while providing us with more roster flexibility going into the 2022 MLS season.”
Meanwhile, Heitz is gambling that fellow under-achiever Gimenez returns to form. The Fire could have had the maximum three DP spots but instead chose to keep Gimenez around, handing him a two-year deal Monday.
Even when the decision was announced, the Fire seemed to know the move wouldn’t be met warmly by a fan base waiting for the team to make on-field strides under Heitz and owner Joe Mansueto.
“Gaston is highly motivated to help lead the Fire back into the playoffs,” Heitz said in a news release. “He will benefit from a new start under [new coach] Ezra Hendrickson and will partner with Federico Navarro to form one of the best and hardest working midfields in MLS next season. We have high expectations for Gaston and are confident that he will deliver for the club.”
After a strong 2020 season in which he paired in the midfield with Alvaro Medran, Gimenez regressed in 2021 and, with a 2022 club option, looked like an obvious candidate to depart, especially after being left home for a September match in Montreal. But wisely or not, the Fire are trying to protect their investment in Gimenez, who turns 31 next summer.
By keeping him, the Fire will have one less big-money spot to fill, which actually could be a good thing because it makes an already-busy offseason slightly less hectic. And if Gimenez plays like the player the Fire hoped they were getting, the choice will look smart.
Navarro also could do more of the midfield dirty work, allowing Gimenez to play to his strengths and distribute passes to kick-start the attack.
But if Gimenez continues on his 2021 trajectory, it would be another Heitz error and set the Fire back.
“I’m very grateful and excited to continue representing the Chicago Fire,” Gimenez said in a news release. “The club has shown their confidence in me, and it is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. I look forward to giving the best version of myself for our fans and the city of Chicago.”
NOTES: The Fire announced the addition of Junior Gonzalez to their coaching staff. Gonzalez, 44, has been a coach for more than 20 years, and worked with Hendrickson at the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC 2.
The Fire are also expected to add Ring of Fire member C.J. Brown to the staff. Brown was an assistant with the Fire in 2014 and spent the 2021 season coaching Chicago House in the National Independent Soccer Association.