Ahead of the final game of the season against the Columbus Crew this Sunday, several Chicago Fire players were informed this week that the club would not be bringing them back next season.
Although it may be uncommon to give advance notice to players in MLS, it’s been Georg Heitz’s policy to do just that since arriving in Chicago. He says it’s common practice in Europe, and it’s the right thing to do for the player, so they have more time to sort out their futures.
So who’s on the list? The club won’t say publicly until Monday, but a number of possible names have been leaked and are now floating around Twitter. Some of the players who may be on the way out have been dropping cryptic messages on Instagram, too. UPDATE: According to a report, Álvaro Medrán is indeed one of the players not returning to the Fire next season.
Earlier this week, Taylor Twellman had reported at halftime of an MLS broadcast that several of those players who were informed they weren’t coming back had decided to band together and skip the Columbus match.
“Seven of those players all said ‘you know what, we’re not partaking in team activities and we’re not going to play in that final game,” Twellman said on the broadcast.
According to several sources at the club, that’s not true. With a couple exceptions, all players are still in training this week, and are available for selection this weekend.
Francisco Calvo has been given permission to join his Costa Rica teammates early. Costa Rica’s federation, which has just hired a new coach, asked the Fire if Calvo could join his international teammates early, and the Fire decided to grant the request.
Gastón Giménez, whose wife is about to give birth to their first child, has continued to train, but he may also miss the Columbus match with permission from the club if his wife goes into labor.
While Calvo was granted early release for international duty, the Fire declined to let Gabriel Slonina and Brian Gutierrez go to U.S. U-20 camp early.— Patrick McCraney (@patrickmccraney) November 5, 2021
The club confirmed Brian McBride called to ask, but the Fire said no, so both players will go to Columbus. #cffc #cf97
This brings up a couple questions. First, did Heitz and his staff make the right call to tell these players they weren’t coming back before the final game? And, even if there wasn’t a mutiny, does it make any sense for any of those guys to play in this game?
To address the first question, maybe. It seems to be the right thing to do from a human standpoint. And, let’s be honest, this news isn’t coming as a shock to many of these players. But, perhaps you could argue Heitz’s kindness, or whatever you want to call it here, helped to create the mess of a tale that came out this week.
As for the second question: It does not make a lot of sense for a player who isn’t coming back to go risk injury in Columbus, and potentially jeopardize a future contract. Maybe you could argue a lower-level player has something to gain by putting on a good performance. But for higher level players, it doesn’t make much sense to risk getting hurt.
However, sources have indicated that other than Calvo, all players are still fully taking part in training, and will play if selected on Sunday.
That’s good news. The Crew are in 10th, on 44 points, and still have an outside chance of making the playoffs. If you’re one of the clubs battling with Columbus for that final spot, and you think Chicago isn’t making an honest effort to win that match, you’ll be livid.
Whatever happens, the Fire are again in a bad position publicly. Everyone I talked to at the club—across different departments—vehemently shot down the player mutiny story. But if Frank Klopas decides to sit a bunch of the players who aren’t coming back, there will be plenty of people who will believe it, anyway. Is that fair? No, but for a club that’s been so bad for so long, the only way to shed this cloud of perceived dysfunction and incompetence is to go out and actually win in 2022.
Winners get the benefit of the doubt.