The details are murky, but this is clear—something happened in Orlando between Djordje Mihailović and Raphael Wicky.
Many fans were livid when Wicky didn’t use Mihailović as a sub in the 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps that sent the Chicago Fire home from the MLS is Back Tournament. After the match, Wicky mentioned an “internal” matter as the reason Mihailović did not play.
We still don’t know exactly what went down. But, whatever it was, the two seem ready to move past it, at least from Wicky’s perspective.
“It was very important that we had this conversation with him or I had this conversation with him,” Wicky told reporters during a conference call this week. “During the tournament we spoke a lot but then also in the end and turned the page and we both said, let’s restart, let’s forget about that. I’m not a person if you do something or something that happened, I will not hold that against you for the whole time.
“For me it was important to see a reaction. And I see that. I see that in training, and that’s a positive because like I always say, Djordje is a good player. He can become an important player for this club. He wants to be an important player for this club and that’s why I ask for a reaction and he gave me that, or he gives me that, and now we have to keep doing that.”
Does this mean Mihailović will play Thursday vs. the Columbus Crew (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN & ESPN+)? We’ll see.
Wicky’s latest conference call with reporters was packed with a lot more Fire information. Here are seven other things we learned:
Wicky wants to see how this group performs together before bringing in more signings
“We have only played five games. We have played with that roster only actually the tournament with three games, the first two games in Seattle and New England was not a full roster, so we already had a lot of changes in winter.
“We want to give this team a chance. We want to see how this team plays in the next two and a half, three months, how the players develop, how the players fit in. That is our goal. We are obviously always having our eyes open, of course, in the transfer window, but right now, we want to give these players a chance to play and to prove. We couldn’t do that unfortunately due to COVID but that’s our plan.
“Of course, we are always talking about positions, about profiles and our club has the eyes open for signings. But we don’t need now again to sign a lot of new players because we are still in a process over the next two months of finding a team, of finding our best team. That’s just a reality. That would have been done now in the normal world, but this year is different.”
MIcheal Azira is back, but Johan Kappelhof still isn’t ready to return to play
“We obviously have our long-term injuries with (Luka) Stojanović and Jeremiah Gutjahr and Kenny Kronholm who are long-term injured. Otherwise the team more or less is fine and there is often—there is always in the team little things, maybe a player may have to rest but so far, the last of the three weeks the guys were able to train. Johan Kappelhof is still not training with the team. He was out already since awhile, so those guys, the long-term injuries, but otherwise, more or less everyone should be available.”
Wicky knows the Crew will be a tough opponent
“I think the Crew, they are a favorite in this game. We are going in with nothing to lose. They had a good start of the season and they had a good tournament. Yeah, they are very well —a possession-orientated team and some good players in the build up. We have to make it hard for them. We have to make it hard for them as well, and more than everything else, we have to play our game. We are a good team, as well. We have good players. We have to play our game so that they have to chase us more.
“So, I think that’s important. We know what we will expect. There are a few new pieces in comparison to last year, but overall, the way the Crew plays, was in those last five games similar to what we have seen last year with the same head coach.
“So, we know what we will expect, but I think it’s very important that we actually play our game. We make it hard for them when they have the ball, but we play our game. That’s very important.”
The players actually like the same-day travel schedule, where they fly out, play, and return all in the same day
“I’m very confident. I mean, actually the players like that idea. I think last season, I know that they had this in the U.S. Open Cup, they had a good experience in that, the guys who were here. But overall, look, it’s not that we have a four-hour flight. We are getting up in the morning. We are flying charter. It’s a 45-minute to 60-minute flight, you arrive in the hotel, you eat, and you have like two and a half or three hours in your room where you can rest.
“Normally, it’s more the days before, as well. Your game preparation is not only on game day. It’s all the days before and making sure that they have to sleep well, recover well, train well, but also recover well. So, it’s more the whole package.”
Wicky really likes the way Homegrown teenager Brian Gutierrez is playing
“We felt the team trained really hard. We trained really hard and they trained well. I have to say that I’m very, very pleased with the Guti, the young Homegrown, Brian Gutierrez who is 17. Not only the last three weeks, he trained very well in the last six, seven weeks and he has progressed a lot since January, February. In general, the team trained well. I’m happy with what I saw.
“It’s like I said before going to Orlando, it’s still a blind date. You go now to this game, and you haven’t played for four weeks, so it’s always a little bit of a blind date.
“But we trained well and Guti has made a lot of progress. I’m very happy with him. I hope he can continue like that. And like I always said, if a player deserves minutes, then the age doesn’t really matter. So I’m not going to tell you now and promise you that the young guy will get minutes, but I’m really happy with what I saw and it’s important for him to keep training like that, keep improving and then he’s in a good way to actually earn some MLS minutes in the next weeks.”
Wicky is concerned about Przemyslaw Frankowski’s Poland call-up, because the travel and quarantine rules are unclear
“That’s a question I ask myself, as well, how all of that will go. I’m always happy when a player is called up for national team. I was lucky to play a lot of time for Switzerland, and you’re always proud to play for your country; so I’m happy for the player.
“I don’t know what the league is intending to do. I don’t know how the rules are in Europe, when he flies from USA into Poland, or wherever they meet, I don’t know exactly in which country they meet. Sometimes you already meet in the country where you play.
“But coming back, I don’t know what’s going to be the procedure. Those are questions we are asking, and we need answers. Because if the players come back and has to go into a ten to 14-day quarantine, that means you lose the player for three weeks. Then we are middle of September or even late September, and then they train or play a week and there is another window in October where the FIFA again has national team games. If the player is called off again, he goes again, same procedure. If he’s there for eight, nine days, and he flies back, has to go again ten to 14 days in quarantine, then that player will not play a lot for us, so I don’t have the answer there. But those are the concerns probably everyone has.”
Even with no fans, the decision to play in Soldier Field, rather than SeatGeek Stadium, was an easy one for the team
“Everyone is talking about Soldier Field since last October, November, when that was announced, so everyone was talking about that. Since I took over, all those changes were made. All the marketing was done for that. Everyone was talking about Soldier Field and excited about Soldier Field, and that is still the case. We have to call Soldier Field our home, and that’s why we want to play there.
“We would love to play there with fans. We were really excited about the opening game which would have been a lot of fans in there. Now we play there without fans, but we are just excited to be in that stadium and we want to call that our home and that’s why the players want to be there.”