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A Look At The Fire Through Grant Wahl’s MLS Ambition Rankings

The Fire rank 15th for the 3rd time in the last 4 years.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated released his annual MLS Ambition Rankings this week. Along with Grant’s personal rankings, SI also sends out a survey to every MLS team with questions focused on the amount of funds the owners put into the team and where those funds go.

The Fire come in at 15 on Wahl’s list this year. Comparing it to where they fell on previous lists, 16th in 2018 and 15th again in both 2017 and 2016, Wahl doesn’t seem to think the Fire have done much to increase their ambition. And frankly, it seems pretty accurate.

It’s concerning that these rankings haven’t changed much in the past 3 years, even going back a place between ‘17 and ‘18, but Wahl seems to think there is at least potential to move up. He specifically calls the Fire “a sleeping giant”, and thinks the first step towards becoming one of the best teams in MLS involves moving to the city and putting down roots there with a new training facility.

The Ambition Ranking Survey is where things get specific. The information comes direct from MLS clubs, and tells us a lot about where they see themselves. Here are some of the highlights:

On the player budget:

The club has spent $31,415,000 across the past three years on Designated Players. The club is spending $18,095,000 in 2019 on the full roster.

Make no mistake, this is a lot of money. Somewhere between a half and two thirds of the Designated Player amount will be from Bastian Schweinsteiger’s contract, but that still means around $10-12 million on designated players over the last three years. Based on the information other clubs provided, spending $18.1 million for the 2019 season is one of the largest in the league. Many teams chose to not specify numbers when given this question, so that tells me this is something the club is proud of and comfortable with showing off.

When given a question on scouting, the club responded with this:

The club currently has two talent scouts. The club has plans to add two full-time and three part-time talent scouts.

Going from two to seven talent scouts is a pretty big jump. I’ll bet minority owner Joe Mansueto has something to do with that. With a multi-billionaire supporting you financially this should be the expectation. More scouts will not only increase the pool of talent that the club has to pick from, but also help the front office sift through that pool to find the best options for the club.

On a USL/NWSL team:

No, the club does not have a USL and/or NWSL team. The club has an affiliation agreement with Lansing Ignite [of USL League One].

I found it interesting that they only named Lansing Ignite as an affiliate. Earlier in the season we heard Nelson Rodriguez say that Indy Eleven was also an affiliate on an episode of the ExtraTime Radio podcast. We’ve also seen multiple loans to Nashville SC. The affiliation situation has been very unclear the last two years. I think it can be a useful tool and I’d like to see the Fire get more use out of their partnerships.

There’s a broken record feel to the way some have talked about the Fire’s potential as a “giant” in MLS recently. These ambition rankings have shown us that saying that you want to be a championship program and even spending like you want to be a championship program are very different from creating the infrastructure successful enough to actually be a championship program. There’s a limited time frame in which the Fire can continue to be called a sleeping giant. Sooner or later something’s got to give. This long stretch of mediocrity can not continue.