Xherdan Shaqiri just one aspect of promising Fire offseason

Instead of trying again with the same losing core of the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Fire sporting director Georg Heitz made major changes to the roster and also his philosophies.

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Georg Heitz, left, and Ezra Hendrickson, right, pose with Xherdan Shaqiri at a Monday news conference.

Courtesy of the Fire

The Fire formally introduced Xherdan Shaqiri on Monday at a news conference.

The highest-profile player the Fire have signed since Bastian Schweinsteiger in 2017, Shaqiri reiterated what he told the Sun-Times about his desire to win in Chicago and stressed that he should be ready for the season opener Saturday at Inter Miami.

Shaqiri, even with the name recognition and biggest salary, isn’t the only acquisition who could help the Fire after an active winter.

Sporting director Georg Heitz brought in three other impactful players this offseason to help a team in desperate need of difference-makers. Defender Rafael Czichos is expected to provide steadiness and veteran leadership, striker Kacper Przybylko will be counted on to convert Shaqiri passes into goals and attacker Jairo Torres will add speed from the wing once he -arrives May 1.

Coach Ezra Hendrickson talked about “exciting times” for the Fire after the offseason they’ve had but wants to see the moves translate to success on the field.

“But we are doing what we can, and that started by getting the right players, the players we felt could fit the organization and what we’re looking for,” Hendrickson said. “Now we just have to make sure that we put the right team on the [field] and play some good [soccer] and win some games because that’s what it’s all about.”

Heitz’s first two years did not bring many victories or memorable soccer. But instead of trying to tweak the 2020 and 2021 core and chase a bad bet, Heitz allowed nine players to leave right after last season and subsequently moved underwhelming designated player Ignacio Aliseda to Swiss partner club FC Lugano. Heitz also seemed to modify his philosophy and went after older players. And in Przybylko’s case, he acquired someone with MLS experience. 

By getting a dependable but non-designated player such as Przybylko, Heitz gained more flexibility, which allowed the Fire to grab Shaqiri and Torres to bolster an attack that was one of the league’s worst in 2021. And in Shaqiri, Czichos and Przybylko, he targeted experienced players who have enjoyed success. 

On Monday, Heitz bluntly said the Fire “lacked winners,” a shortcoming he worked to address.

“We wanted to bring a couple of really highly skilled players, and also with the mentality,” Heitz said. “We need more confidence on the field, and we are really looking forward to seeing Xherdan and also the other new players and the players who are still here perform in the upcoming weeks.”

At times this offseason, it felt like the Fire would be stuck again, provoking more angst in an already-anxious fan base. The signings of Shaqiri and Torres came relatively late, and Heitz quipped that the Fire didn’t wait on purpose to make their biggest moves.

The timing of the deals won’t matter much if they pan out, a lesson Heitz learned two years ago when he admittedly tried to do too much, too quickly.

“In the end, you have to sign the right players, and we feel that we have signed the right players,” Heitz said. “On the other hand, no one has ever won a trophy for just signing players. We have to also bring the results and play well. 

“What we did was well thought through, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically will be successful. But we are pretty confident that we made the right choices.”

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