On Wednesday, the Chicago Fire announced that owner and chairman Joe Mansueto had purchased a second team—FC Lugano, an 113-year-old club from the Italian-speaking portion of Switzerland that currently sits third in the Swiss Super League table.
Mansueto and Fire Sporting Director Georg Heitz, who will now oversee both clubs, talked at length with reporters in Chicago on Thursday about what the purchase will mean for the Fire, and what we can expect going forward.
“The basic premise is that we could combine and leverage our sporting resources with partner clubs,” Mansueto explained. “Maybe there’s some front office synergies, but that’s not really front of mind. It’s more on the sporting side. If you have a scouting network that you can leverage across two clubs, the performance side, the analytics... you can take advantage of things that, ordinarily, we could not take advantage of.”
It also means there will be plenty of movement between the clubs. If one team has too many centerbacks, for example, some could be loaned to the other club. Or, like we saw earlier this season with the Fire, if one team is suddenly injury plagued, reinforcements could arrive via loan from the other club.
In MLS, it’s probably going to look more like what we see with NYCFC and the City Football Group or the Red Bull clubs—albeit on a smaller scale—and less like the virtually nonexistent relationship between Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids.
“It will give us much more flexibility in the roster building in MLS, that’s absolutely clear,” Heitz said. “We should be careful, because these players are human beings, and we should speak with them and ask them before we allocate them, but it gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Part of that comes with the two clubs playing on opposite schedules. In MLS, the longer transfer window is in winter, but in Europe, it’s in the summer. This allows the two clubs to strike quickly when there’s a player available in either window, and then transfer the player from Lugano to Chicago, or vice versa, when it’s time.
“I think we should not forget in my opinion MLS is becoming more and more attractive to players, but sometimes we lack an international slot or something like that,” Heitz added. “We could tell a player, listen, we have a possibility. You play one season in Lugano, and afterwords you can fulfill your American dream. This makes absolutely sense. If you don’t sign a player in a certain window, and he’s talented, he’ll be gone.”
Mansueto eventually wants to have both clubs run the same system, much like Red Bull, making it easier for players to adapt after a transfer. Between the two clubs there are now seven scouts, and Lugano’s location in central Europe will make it easier for the Fire to look at players from that part of the world.
With the Fire struggling on the field, though, it begs the question: why do this now? Why not focus on making the Fire successful first? Mansueto doesn’t see it that way.
“I think we can do these things in parallel, I think one actually enhances the other,” Mansueto said. “I think Lugano, if anything, speeds up the development of the Chicago Fire. These are long term projects. You gotta plant the seeds, and kind of get going on them. To try to do these sequentially, I think is just gonna take way, way too long.”