Yesterday, Chicago Fire president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez took to the podium for his end-of-season debrief with the media.
Rodriguez offered clear answers to a few pressing questions. The Fire picked up their club options for Jeremiah Gutjahr, Micheal Azira, and Fabian Herbers, giving them some good depth at forward and midfield. He confirmed what we thought about seating capacity at Soldier Field; the third level will be initially closed off, and the initial number of seats will be limited to 28,000. He also announced that they’ll have more information on whatever they’re doing to the club’s brand in November.
However, when pressed on this season’s lack of success and whether or not he and head coach Veljko Paunovic should get another chance next year, he around the question. His answers to tough questions about the product on the pitch were meandering and often bordered on the absurd. At one point he made a long, tortured metaphor about Russia’s invasion of Finland in 1939; its relevance to the current state of the club was, shall we say, “murky.”
But perhaps the most galling moment came when he insisted that “our football didn’t let us down.”
The 2019 Chicago Fire season was defined by football letting them down. From defensive mistakes and goalkeeping errors letting in goals that shouldn’t have been scored, to not capitalizing on being the team with the second highest expected goals in MLS, this team squandered chance after chance on the pitch.
Yes, at times they showed they were capable of wonderful football. They were the first team this year to take points from eventual Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC at their home stadium. They won multiple games by three or more goals. On their day, they could look like the most dominant team in the league. But when it mattered they always seemed to fall flat on their face. They had opportunity after opportunity to make something of the season, and they let it get away.
Nelson Rodriguez is either lying to you, or lying to himself. And I can’t decide which is worse.
Either he thinks that the 2019 season really wasn’t that bad, or he’s trying to spin you into believing underachieving as badly as they did this year isn’t really a problem. He blames this year on problems not on the field, but larger cultural issues, and now that those cultural issues are gone, next year with him will be better.
This isn’t the first time Rodriguez has put on this particular song and dance routine. At the end of the 2018 season, he took responsibility for not putting together a proper roster, something he reiterated yesterday. What he didn’t acknowledge is that he said at the end of the 2018 season that the next year he’d do a better job. He didn’t. Rodriguez keeps promising that next year will be better, we just need to give him more time, but “better” never actually comes.
I’m sick and tired of Nelson Rodriguez insisting that everything is okay when clearly it’s not. He revealed a lot when he said that the reason all three Designated Player contracts expired at the end of this season was due, in part, to the possibility of someone coming in to replace him for the 2020 season.
He was right when he said that there was nothing he could say to assure the fan base that he was the right person for the job. Because he’s not.
It’s time for the Fire to move on.