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Raphael Wicky says new performance center would have ‘big, big’ impact on Fire

There are still plenty of hurdles for the Fire to overcome before they build a state-of-the-art performance center within city limits, but their coach and midfielder Fabian Herbers are excited by the idea.

A rendering of the Chicago Fire’s proposed performance center at Hanson Park. Chicago Fire FC

There are still plenty of hurdles for the Fire to overcome before they build a state-of-the-art performance center within city limits.

But just the idea of the project has coach Raphael Wicky excited.

“This is something amazing that will be built here for the Chicago Fire,” Wicky said. “This is huge for a club. This is huge for the future of the club, for the players, for the academy, for the club to attract players.”

The team currently practices at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Fire’s home arena from 2006-19. Before the 2020 season, the Fire spearheaded numerous behind-the-scenes improvements at the facility that included modernizing the first-team locker room, adding space to the coaches’ room and tripling the available workout space.

The proposed $90 million plan for Hanson Park located in the Northwest Side’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood, however, would be in line with newer facilities built around the league if it comes to pass. Its completion would represent another departure from the Andrew Hauptman era under current owner Joe Mansueto, who has openly discussed building a performance center for the Fire.

Counting a renovated Hanson Stadium and a proposed seasonal inflatable dome, the proposal that emerged last week would bring seven fields,including three hybrid grass pitches for the first team to use. The Fire’s plan also incorporates a 90,000 square foot soccer performance center and three synthetic turf fields.

When it came to sketching the facility, Wicky said he was asked a few things about the project and gave his opinion, but that sporting Georg Heitz is probably more involved. Still, Wicky didn’t undersell what a completed center would mean to the Fire, saying it would have a “big,big impact on this club.”

“I’m 100% sure of that because a training facility is your home away from home,” Wicky said. “That’s where you spend, as a coach and as a coaching staff, so much time. Even as a player, if you have all these possibilities to use in a training facility, you will spend much more time there, and you actually enjoy going to work even more because you have just a perfect facility.”

Fire midfielder Fabian Herbers, who said he hadn’t seen the plans for the project, noted that the most important part of a training facility is having a good field. If you train on just one, it can get bumpy because of overuse. Multiple pitches, like the proposed project would have, can avoid that problem.

Herbers also wasn’t going to gripe about the current setup in Bridgeview. He said the Fire have a good gym and treatment room and “everything” at SeatGeek.

“But I mean, there’s always certain things that can be a little bit better,” Herbers said. “I’m the last one to complain because I’ve trained in smaller locker rooms in Germany and wherever, but it’s good. It’s good that the club has that vision that we get those training facilities and I’m excited for it.”