In July, Fire owner Joe Mansueto said he’d like to bring back sporting director Georg Heitz.
Mansueto needs to reconsider and move on from Heitz.
Barring a miraculous turnaround, the Fire will miss the postseason for the third straight year under Heitz. After averaging exactly one point per game over Heitz’s first two seasons, the Fire actually are on pace to improve. However, as the standings show, not nearly enough.
This can’t continue.
Heitz’s latest misstep is indicative of why the Fire must make a change. Before the transfer deadline, when the Fire were still reasonably in playoff contention, Heitz didn’t reinforce the spine of the team by bringing in either a new center back or central midfielder. With midfielder Gaston Gimenez out for the season and centerback Wyatt Omsberg recovering from foot surgery, the Fire are paper-thin up the middle. But Heitz limited coach Ezra Hendrickson’s options by standing pat when he had the chance to bring in help.
With his contract up at the end of the season, the Fire can’t stand pat with Heitz, who has shown little understanding of how to build a winner under MLS’ salary-cap constraints. He also has struggled with his biggest signings.
While the Xherdan Shaqiri gamble was worth taking, it hasn’t paid off because of his injuries. When he has been healthy, Shaqiri has been good but not good enough to justify his salary. Unfortunately for the Fire, Shaqiri’s availability has been an issue and doesn’t figure to get better as he ages.
For Heitz, missing on designated players and expensive purchases has been common, and the Fire have paid for those mistakes. With the season on the line, the Fire are winless in their last five matches entering Saturday and haven’t scored in 400 minutes. Nobody has stepped up to make something happen. Their attack — which was supposed to have been bolstered by Shaqiri, fellow designated player Jairo Torres and high-priced striker Kacper Przybylko — has produced the fewest goals in the league with 28.
Staying with Heitz would invite more of the same. Giving him additional time and maybe another rebuild could threaten the next two or three seasons, potentially further saddling the franchise with more questionable long-term deals.
That also would hurt the business side of the club. Because the Fire have struggled to win, they’ve given nobody a reason to try their product. On Aug. 27, a perfect night for soccer, only 13,907 turned out at Soldier Field to see the Fire lose 2-0 to CF Montreal. The quality of play only will become more important to the franchise’s goals next year, when casual fans will have to seek out matches on Apple TV+ instead of flipping to the familiar and accessible WGN.
Keeping Heitz in charge of the product would be incredibly risky.
That said, getting rid of Heitz also would carry some risk. Mansueto would need to find somebody to oversee Swiss partner club FC Lugano. Perhaps Heitz could be transferred there and have no role with the Fire. A new sporting director would mean another remodeling, continuing the Fire’s cycle of new executives and visions.
Yet, as the Fire learned when Heitz kept the status quo before the 2021 season, continuity isn’t always a good thing. More of Heitz would be the bad kind of continuity.