Fire dismiss coach Ezra Hendrickson

Sporting director Georg Heitz has missed on every designated player he’s signed. His best moves have been selling teenagers to European clubs, he’s shown no ability to build an MLS winner and has the Fire on track to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year under his watch. Yet Heitz still has his job, but Hendrickson doesn’t.

SHARE Fire dismiss coach Ezra Hendrickson
The Fire have dismissed coach Ezra Hendrickson.

The Fire have dismissed coach Ezra Hendrickson.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Sporting director Georg Heitz has missed on every designated player he has signed. His best moves have been selling teenagers to European clubs, he has shown no ability to build an MLS winner and has the Fire on track to miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year under his watch.

Yet coach Ezra Hendrickson is the one out of a job.

On Monday, the Fire dismissed Hendrickson and deputy Junior Gonzalez and named Frank Klopas coach for the remainder of the season. Assistants C.J. Brown and Zach Thornton remain.

In 44 games, Hendrickson went 12-18-14 as the Fire showed a troubling propensity to squander late leads and drop points. This season, the Fire are 2-3-5 (11 points) and mired in 14th place in the Eastern Conference. But they’re also three points out of sixth with a key U.S. Open Cup match against St. Louis City on Tuesday.

Hendrickson essentially gambled on the Fire winning against St. Louis by fielding a weakened side Saturday in Nashville. The feckless 3-0 loss was Hendrickson’s last game with the Fire, and he won’t be around to see how that risk turns out.

“We were trying to analyze properly, and we just said a season can slip away quickly,” Heitz said. “We really thought that we had to change now.”

For now, there’s no change with Heitz, whose contract is up at the end of the season. Heitz denied his own status was a factor in Hendrickson’s dismissal and evaded a question about his involvement in the upcoming coaching search. But he affirmed he’d still be looking for a new designated player when the transfer window opens this summer.

By allowing Heitz to pursue and perhaps sign another DP, owner/chairman Joe Mansueto would run the risk of handcuffing future Fire executives to a high-priced contract. Heitz’s history in that part of the market helped doom Hendrickson.

Against Nashville, the Fire saw the impact a designated player can make. Two years after he scored three goals against the Fire, Nashville attacker Hany Mukhtar had another hat trick against a team built by Heitz. Though the three goals weren’t his most impressive — two on penalties and one on a rebound — Mukhtar controlled the match and picked apart the Fire.

None of the five designated players signed by Heitz have influenced a match like that.

Xherdan Shaqiri, one of the most expensive players in MLS history, has no goals or assists in 359 minutes this year and was hardly noticeable in Nashville. The attack has looked much better with Brian Gutierrez in the middle of the field, and Shaqiri’s effort has been questioned on multiple occasions, notably on opening night when he walked instead of supporting an attack even when other offensive teammates were sprinting. Jairo Torres has played just 45 minutes this season because of injury and wasn’t effective last season when he was on the field.

Those players weren’t brought in by Hendrickson, but he’s the one who took the fall.

“It is never the fault of one person if such a thing happens, and of course, I am the first one who is responsible for the results of this club, for the sporting department of this club, and therefore, I would not blame it on Ezra,” Heitz said. “It was maybe the whole situation, the whole consolation was no longer one that we considered could be successful.”

When it comes to who signs the next DP and coach, Mansueto needs to reach the same conclusion about Heitz.

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