Fire are behind schedule, and Georg Heitz knows it
Now well into sporting director Heitz’s second season in Chicago, the Fire aren’t any closer to being one of Major League Soccer’s best teams.
You’re not alone if you don’t think the Fire are where they should be in the second year of the Georg Heitz/Raphael Wicky era.
One person who agrees is Heitz, the sporting director who built the team.
‘‘Obviously not where we want it to be,’’ Heitz told the Chicago Sun-Times before the Fire’s 1-0 loss Saturday to CF Montreal. ‘‘In the end . . . you have opponents who also try their best. We tried our best. Obviously last season was a difficult season for everyone, especially if you have a new project, like we had it. If you start a new project in such circumstances, this is really, really very difficult. I mean, we were kind of an expansion team last season, I would say.’’
Unfortunately, the Fire (1-5-1, four points) still are getting results like a first-year club.
Entering the Major League Soccer break for the FIFA international window, the Fire are last in the 27-team league at .57 points per game. Their hopes that continuity from the 2020 group would bring success are hanging by a thread, and though they have taken steps defensively, they’ve scored only twice since the first 15 minutes of the season.
And while it’s true the Fire were an almost completely different team in 2020 than they were in 2019, they still finished behind two actual expansion teams last season. Yes, Inter Miami effectively cheated to place in front of the Fire, but Nashville SC is again a playoff contender, while the Fire are competing to stay out of last place overall.
The 2020 season was pockmarked by stoppages and irregularities, but the Fire weren’t the only team to battle those problems. The Fire have been beset by injuries to start this season, but other clubs have faced similar issues.
This wasn’t what the Fire had in mind when they brought in Heitz. Now well into his second season in Chicago, the Fire aren’t any closer to being among MLS’ best teams.
‘‘It’s clear we are behind,’’ Heitz said. ‘‘We wanted to be at least a little bit more up in the [standings], that’s absolutely clear.’’
What will happen if the Fire don’t start stringing together victories isn’t as obvious.
Coach Wicky has a team option for 2022, and Heitz didn’t want to say where the Fire were leaning on that call. The record is well-documented, but Heitz also credited Wicky with the development of young players, notably homegrown player Brian Gutierrez.
Heitz steered clear of discussions about finding new designated players for next season, something the Fire can do if they decline their 2022 club options on striker Robert Beric and/or midfielder Gaston Gimenez.
The main things Heitz and Wicky will be judged on are victories and losses and whether the team shows progress. And even with the slow start this year, the team’s goals haven’t changed.
‘‘You should not change your mind when it comes to ambitions, and we said we want to make the playoffs,’’ Heitz said. ‘‘We still want to make the playoffs.’’