Is it playoffs or bust in 2021 for Fire coach Raphael Wicky?

Coming off a disappointing 2020 season, the Fire’s goal is to make the 2021 MLS playoffs. What happens to Wicky, and his 2022 contract option, if they miss out again?

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Raphael Wicky and the Fire opened training camp Monday.

Raphael Wicky and the Fire opened training camp Monday.

If the Fire don’t make the playoffs this season, coach Raphael Wicky might be in trouble.

Hired Dec. 27, 2019, Wicky signed a two-year deal with a club option for 2022. In his first season, the Fire missed the 10-team Eastern Conference playoffs, finishing behind two expansion clubs. 

Wicky’s second season began in earnest Monday, when the Fire kicked off preseason training in Bridgeview. Whether Wicky gets a third year could depend on the Fire’s progress this season, and one indication of improvement could be reaching the playoffs. 

During a media teleconference Monday, Fire sporting director Georg Heitz was asked when he’ll decide on Wicky’s option and what criteria he’ll use to make that call. Heitz said the Fire won’t rush that decision.

“I prefer to have these talks internally and first speak with the people who are concerned,” Heitz said. “But it is clear we want to make more progress this season. And it’s professional sports, so it always also has to do with results in the end. This is clear.”

Obviously, last season wasn’t easy for the Fire. Heitz was hired Dec. 20, 2019, adding an extra degree of difficulty. The roster came together late, and then everything was interrupted by the pandemic. 

Wicky deserves credit for the Fire having just one COVID-19 positive player last season. His forceful and understanding words during a year of sharper focus on racial issues also deserve commendation. 

But at the same time, the on-field results weren’t good enough. 

For all the talk of advanced metrics and being tough to play against, the Fire won five of 23 games and none on the road. They also came up short in big moments by failing to advance in the MLS is Back Tournament and going winless in their last six regular-season games when a playoff spot was in their grasp.

Another year of that, and the questions around Wicky will only intensify. Wicky knows how the business works from his successful playing career and time leading Swiss powerhouse FC Basel. He’s used to the pressure to succeed and said coaches can’t focus on it too much because of all the sleep it would cost them during the season.

“We all know it’s a result-driven business. Of course we want to qualify for the playoffs,” Wicky said. “Is it going to be dependent only on that? That’s not something I can give the answer to. But I’m not thinking about that every single day. I’m coming here, happy and proud to be the coach every single day, giving the best version of myself, trying to continue on building our team, our style of play. 

“Obviously having more wins, making results for a team, for the club, for the fans, and helping the players to develop individually, integrate the young players even more in the first team. So all of those things are things I’m working on and I’m excited about.”

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