On the same day the Chicago Fire’s old SeatGeek Stadium roommates, the Chicago Red Stars, punched their ticket to yet another playoff semi-final, the Fire ended their 2021 season the same way they usually do—with a whimper.
The Fire will miss the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons—a run of failure that’s actually hard to produce in a league that promotes parity. The Fire’s 2-0 loss to the Crew mattered only in terms of playing time and pride. The playoffs were an afterthought weeks ago, even before the club fired head coach Raphael Wicky and replaced him with Frank Klopas on an interim basis.
Klopas served his club honorably over the last month, with two wins, three losses and one draw down the stretch. The players—especially those informed this week they wouldn’t be back—could have given up. But for the most part, they didn’t. Despite reports of a “mutiny,” most of the players who are rumored to be departing were either in the game or on the bench for the match.
“Not one player came and said, ‘I don’t want to play, I don’t want to compete,’ it was the total opposite,” Klopas said. “Everybody wanted to play. The training that we had leading up to this game was very sharp, and very competitive.”
But this match was more about the guys who will be back next season, like goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, who made eight saves, or Brian Gutierrez, who was named Man of the Match after going the full 90 minutes.
After appearing on the bench 18 times this season without playing a single minute, homegrown signing Alex Monis made his debut today, coming on in the 72nd minute. The 18-year-old played his first MLS minutes just days after losing his mother to cancer.
The Fire continue to narrow their search for a new head coach, with Crew assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson, LAFC assistant (and Fire legend) Ante Razov, and Sporting Kansas City II head coach Paulo Nagamura all due in Chicago for in person interviews soon. Gutierrez said there are certain qualities he’d like to see in his next boss, whether it’s one of those three men, or someone else.
“These past two coaches gave a lot of confidence to me,” Gutierrez said. “They were strict, passionate, and that’s what you want to see in a coach. Discipline, passion towards the game, and willingness to win.”
The Fire not only said goodbye to several players today—who will all be officially announced this week—they also wore the maligned Fire Crown crest for the final time today. It’s been phased out of almost everything involving the club for more than a month now, but it finally ended its two-year run on the field Sunday.
Heading into 2022, the Fire will have its bright new logo in full use, a new head coach with new ideas, and several promising homegrowns continuing to make their marks. A splashy new designated player or two will certainly help to improve things, too. But if the team can’t finally put a winner on the field, it won’t matter.
“Next year this club, and every year, has to be competing for championships. In order to do that, we have to be a team that’s consistently in the playoffs,” Klopas said. “It’s not gonna be easy, but whoever comes should know that they’re gonna have a lot of people working and supporting them.”