In the last decade, Chicago Fire fans have had fleeting moments of pure, unabated joy that they can hang their hat on. For me, 2017 had to be the peak of Fire fandom in the last ten years. On the back of signing an elite superstar in the world of football, Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Men In Red had gone on an absolutely tear in the first half of the season. And after hosting the 2017 All-Star Game at Soldier Field, it seemed like the Fire were, for one brief shining moment, the center of the MLS universe.
That was the peak for me, until Saturday.
With the announcement of Joe Mansueto buying the controlling stake in the Chicago Fire, Andrew Hauptman exiting the club entirely, and the Fire mopping the floor with FC Dallas in the always hotly contested Brimstone Cup, Saturday afternoon topped it. I would imagine this would be the same for many supporters across the club.
But make no mistake-Joe Mansueto has his work cut out for him. Nothing will be solved overnight, and there are certainly a lot of questions the club’s new owner and chairman needs to answer, both in the short and long term. I’ve outlined a few here, including one of my own, that should be on the top of his list.
Short Term: What will be, and who will be making, the key Front Office & Roster decisions this offseason?
I don’t think I can possibly overstate how important this offseason is for the future of the Chicago Fire. Look at all the moving pieces: this is Joe Mansueto’s first offseason as controlling owner, there will be a new CBA, the Fire have 3 DP slots theoretically available, and the contract of Veljko Paunovic has only one year remaining.
This is a mountain to sort through for Mr. Mansueto. Will he bring back the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger or Aleksander Katai to marshal the move to Soldier Field, or will he sign a new, flashy name to generate a crowd and grab some headlines? He may decide to start with an entirely clean slate, showing Rodriguez and Paunovic the door, and allowing an entirely new Front Office to rebuild this squad from the ground up.
Between navigating new MLS roster requirements and evaluating every member of the Fire organization, we are going to learn early on what the new ownerships groups vision for this club with the decisions made from November through February.
Long Term Question: How do you reinvigorate the fanbase?
This one is obvious, but has to be close to the top right? This club is going to see a “new ownership bump” in the short term, generating excitement from the core supporters that have weathered years of mediocrity on the field and tension off the field and attention from Chicago sports fans as the move north to Soldier Field.
This could be fleeting though, if not leveraged properly. Mansueto must develop and deploy a long-term strategy to not just fill seats, but partner with key Supports Group’s and push the Fire brand into the eyes of city. Die-hards are starving positive momentum, and as I wrote last week, there’s a larger community to rally reinforcements.
One Question I Have: How much do they invest in young talent in this new era of MLS?
Between the talent that exists in the Chicago metropolitan area (a top 5 area in the country in my opinion) and one of the most attractive cities in the world to live in, the Fire should be a beacon for young talent in North America. Whether it’s finding ways to squeeze greater quality out of the Academy, or investing in young foreign talent before their prime, I want to know Joe Mansueto thinks prioritizing young talent to rebuild the Fire is a route this club needs to go.
Not only is it the model of the league now, but it’s been the model in Chicago for years. Would the championships by the Blackhawks and Cubs in the last decade been euphoric for their respective fan bases after years of struggle? Absolutely. Was it that much sweeter watching stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo grow from prospects to faces of the city and those teams on their way to the top of the mountain? Absolutely. Why can’t the Fire do the same with young players of their own?
Let me know what else you think needs priority for the new Mansueto regime in the short, long, or even selfish term.