Paradoxically, a disheartening, disappointing, and disastrous season can often yield the most optimism and hope from a fan base. Eventually "it can’t get worse than this" starts to resonate as a narrative even for the most cynical supporters. We saw that process in action as soon as Frank Yallop was dismissed as Head Coach in late September - the rumor mill control was set to Ludicrous. Names like Miguel Herrera, Mike Petke and all-but-canned Jason Kreis were immediately bandied about from various outlets while making the rounds on Twitter.
Reality eventually has its say. Herrera, the former Mexico manager, seems set to become the next Tijuana manager. Realistically, the rumors of him becoming head man at the Fire and luring Carlos Vela from Spain seemed far-fetched; a pipe-dream of some fans who are yearning for a strong ethnic connection the team has lacked since the departure of Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
Mike Petke is a New Yorker through and through. The Red Bull fans loved him, and he drove the team to successful regular seasons. Will he demand a similar payroll and access to Designated Players that he had in NY/NJ? Can he acclimate himself to the culture and tradition of Chicago that he’s not steeped in? Actually forget those questions. The real one is, will his price tag be too high? Maybe he’s better suited for one of the new expansion teams coming out in 2017. Maybe not. Petke is probably the most intriguing name available, and if rumors are true, he’s already been interviewed.
If those in charge of the Manchester Yankees are actually foolish enough to fire Jason Kreis after just one season, he would be a possible candidate for the simple fact that there aren’t any vacancies at the moment in MLS. Beggars can’t be choosers, and unless another coach is jettisoned in the next few weeks, Kreis would ultimately have to consider Chicago.
Taking those three names together, it feels as if much of the fan base is hoping for – if not expecting – a high profile name to be the next head coach. I can’t fault anyone for wanting that or even holding the club, namely new GM Nelson Rodriguez, to that standard. With the parity often seen in MLS, along with the club's lack of history in hiring big names in the past, it’s more likely the Fire will bring on board a lesser-known name, or someone who might have a connection to the club without previous head coaching experience. I won’t pretend to know what criteria the club is actually setting for their interview process, whether they are looking at international options of if they’re simply looking within MLS as they did with Frank Yallop.
For the sake of keeping expectations tempered - and perhaps conditioning you, the reader, to anticipate a relatively underwhelming (on paper) hire - I’ve gone through the list of current MLS assistants who might be deserving of a promotion. There’s a chance that none of these men even get a phone call from the Fire, let alone an interview or job offer, but they’re probably more along the line of who we should expect.
Soehn could deliver experience, and Fire connections
Tom Soehn is Jay Heaps’ right hand man in New England. He was at the helm of a D.C. United team that won a Supporters Shield and US Open cup during his four year tenure. Soehn was number two in DC to Fire legend Peter Nowak in the three years prior to that, helping United win two Supporters Shields in 2004 and 2006. Soehn’s MLS coaching career began with his hometown Fire. He was an assistant to Bob Bradley in 2001 and 2002, and was second in command under Dave Sarachan in 2003. One of the unique stops of Soehn’s career was the three year stretch (2010-2012) he spent as Director of Soccer Operations for the Vancouver Whitecaps. The blend of front office player acquisition experience mixed in with the coaching background may have molded Soehn into an ideal candidate for many clubs. Soehn also maintains his Chicago connection as the Executive Club Director of the Chicago Kickers.
D.C. United offer another Fire connection, but it’s not who you think
Yes I know. Former Fire goalie and legend Zach Thornton is on Ben Olsen’s staff. I don’t doubt he can make a good head coach one day, but his name is not the one that jumps out at me.
Amos Magee, by way of his golden goal in the 2001 USOC, will forever be entrenched in Chicago Fire lore. That alone, is not the reason why he should be considered a candidate for the head coaching job. "Chesty," as he’s affectionately referred to in the stories told of Fire past, is the current DCU U-23 coach and also assistant to Ben Olsen. This role came shortly after a two year stint in Portland with similar roles. Magee has received praise from Olsen for his knowledge of the game, and the experience with younger players could be valuable to the development of a Harry Shipp and Colin Fernandez. Being a Midwestern guy himself, Magee always had a rooting interest in the Fire. It’s always good to have a Head Coach who truly gives a damn, especially after being a fan and player of said team.
A polished, championship-caliber retread
As was the case with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, sometimes you just have to leave home, learn a little bit more about yourself, and then return reinvigorated and ready for continued success. Dave Sarachan’s first coaching successes came under his current boss Bruce Arena. It was that tree from which Bob Bradley and Sarachan himself blossomed, albeit to differing degrees. His success as head coach of the Fire was immediate, however after the club lost some of its star power, the results also declined. The criticisms that stand with Sarachan have not changed. Can he do well without star players or without Bruce Arena present? Expectations at the Fire have changed since Sarachan’s head coaching stint. A fan base that always expected trophies now begs for a squad good enough to make the playoffs. With his experience assisting a constant winner in LA in today’s star-studded MLS, Sarachan in tandem with Nelson Rodriguez, can possibly be (at the least) a nice stop-gap to get the club headed in the right direction.
Ring of Fire in the land of emerald
Ante Razov. You knew it was coming. He doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience. This season is his first assisting Sigi Schmid in Seattle after two seasons as a coach in the LA Galaxy academy. Much has been made about the Fire’s damaged connection with its past. Much of that has been remedied off the field, Razov’s inclusion into the club’s Ring of Fire being part of it. What is lacking in the locker room, player acquisition and development is a link to the winning ways of the past. A fiery Razov might have what it takes to reignite the desire that’s been missing. As for tactics and experience, the former striker grades incomplete.
Once a Wizard, not always a Wizard
Kerry Zavagnin has deep roots in Kansas City. He spent nine years there as a player before becoming assistant to Peter Vermes. Much of the team’s success and player development can be attributed to Zavagnin. The former holding midfielder might have the nous and eye for talent to transform the Fire into a high pressure 4-3-3 team. Or he could prove that without Vermes he’s nothing but a good assistant. Maybe put a pin in this one for a few years until the next vacancy but don’t forget the name.
A Wolff in Crew clothing
Another throwback to a bygone Fire era of success is the entertaining Josh Wolff. The man could ball when he was in his prime, and he’s been picking up coaching experience for the last four seasons. Wolff had such an electric start to his career as a rookie with the Fire that it would be nice to see the relationship come full circle. It would also be great to see a Greg Berhalter understudy get plucked away from our local rivals. He’s sort of a blend between the Amos Magee and Ante Razov selections.
Nobody knows who the next Fire Head Coach will be (unless we know it’s Petke). It could be a Danish equivalent of Oscar Pareja. It could be CJ Brown. It very well could be Jason Kreis if NYCFC are as dumb as some of us think they are. All I’m saying is don’t get your hopes up initially. It’s not going to be Mourinho, it won’t be Herrera and it won’t even be Schmid or Arena. Whoever it is, we can at least have some marginal faith that just maybe the Fire have hired a GM that knows what he’s doing during a coaching search. After all, de los Cobos, Klopas and Yallop are gone - it can’t get worse.