As we move toward 2022, here are a few Chicago Fire thoughts I’d like to put on the record:
The Fire should enter the off season with a minimum of two open Designated Player spots
Ignacio Aliseda is under contract next season, and I’m not sure there’s a way to move him that makes sense for the club. But Robert Berić and Gastón Giménez both have club options. This decision should be clear to everyone, right? I’m afraid it won’t be.
The last time I talked to Georg Heitz on the record, he was rightfully low on Berić’s lack of scoring output, but was defensive of Giménez. Maybe last week’s ridiculous suspension finally proved to Heitz that he can find a better, more dedicated designated player than Giménez. But if I’m forced to predict? He’ll be back. And fans will, rightfully, be annoyed.
While Berić still strikes me as a good guy whose goal scoring struggles are mental, Giménez and Aliseda (when he is actually playing) both look slower to me, almost like they’re not fully in shape.
I gave the benefit of the doubt to Nacho last season because he’s young, it was a tough first season away from home, and maybe there’s hope he can be a quality player week in and week out (although giving him a DP contract was ridiculous). But Giménez? He should be a leader, a captain figure, a guy who grabs this team by the scuff of the neck, unites them, and drags them forward. A guy who dominates the center of the pitch. Most of the time, especially lately, Giménez is none of that. The Fire can do better. Honestly, if the Fire don’t grab this opportunity to go find two new DPs—to actually get it right this time—it will make me wonder what’s really going on.
How much of this is on Wicky?
There is, as expected, a lot of anger from fans directed at Raphael Wicky. But, honestly, looking at this roster, could he have done much more? Look at the forward position: Robert Berić has three goals this season. Chinonso Offor has one—and while he’s shown potential, he’s also incredibly raw. Elliot Collier hasn’t scored a goal for the Fire since 2018. (Alex Monis, despite being on the bench a dozen times in 2021, still hasn’t played a single minute—maybe that one is on Wicky). Aliseda? We’ve discussed him already. Stanislav Ivanov was inured, but since coming back he’s been nowhere near the level expected. Luka Stojanović has been good as an attacking midfielder, but he’s not enough to make any other club fear the Fire.
Meanwhile, CJ Sapong just hit double digits for Nashville SC.
Wicky is a great guy, and I do believe he’s a quality soccer mind who could win with a better roster. I’ve said this before, but if I were a player, he’s the kind of smart, thoughtful coach I’d love to play for. But, at this point, he may not be the right guy for this team. From the outside, the Fire seem like a broken group, filled with cliques, who sometimes aren’t all pulling in the right direction. The Fire might benefit from a bigger, stronger personality who can come in and clean up this mess; one who will call out Heitz—or even players—publicly. Remember when Wicky claimed Berić wasn’t playing because his face mask was bothering him? We all know it’s because he stopped scoring. Or whatever “team rule” Giménez and Aliseda broke last week? Call it out. The players who aren’t breaking team rules deserve to know there’s accountability beyond a day off work.
Play the kids
The Fire aren’t making the playoffs. The players and coaches have stayed on message, still arguing they have a shot. They don’t. That died with the loss to D.C. United, and was buried with the loss to CF Montreal. FiveThirtyEight gives the team a less than one percent chance of making it. It would require a miracle, and it’s absurd to pretend otherwise to the fans.
I assume the club doesn’t want to publicly admit the playoffs are a lost cause, for fear it’ll hurt ticket sales to the remaining four home games. But honestly? I’d be more likely to pay to see a team of young players go out there and try to impress for 2022 than I would watch the same, stale product.
Who should return? Who should go?
Other than the DPs who I discussed above: Francisco Calvo needs to go. I do think Calvo brings some positives to the squad, but it’s time for a fresh start with someone who is hopefully less mistake prone. Just a guess, but Álvaro Medrán seems like he’s headed back to Spain. I can’t imagine Boris Sekulić is returning, either. I’ve written before that Jonathan Bornstein should be back, and I’d say the same with Bobby Shuttleworth, but only if he’s ok backing up and being a mentor to Gabriel Slonina. Even in a youth movement, the Fire need strong veteran leaders around the locker room.
Is there any hope?
There’s plenty. Gabriel Slonina has been fun to watch, and seems mature beyond his years. Carlos Terán is showing potential. When Brian Gutierrez is fully healthy, he’s fun to watch. I’m not sure yet if he’ll really warrant that giant reported transfer fee, but Federico Navarro works his ass off, and really seems to care about helping the Fire win. (Interesting aside: Navarro shares the same agent as Aliseda—Alberto Fochi Moreno. According to Transfermarkt, Moreno’s two highest valued players based on recent transfer fees—by far—are the two guys he has on the Fire. Moreno must really love Heitz.)
And, as I reported earlier this month, the Fire signed Missael Rodriguez to a Homegrown contract, and he promptly went out and scored two goals against Indy Eleven in a recent scrimmage.
Off the field, the new logo is coming, which should help to lift a dark cloud for fans. And, I’m hearing a lot of people at the club are raving about Ishwara Glassman Chrein, the new club president. She believes the club can get more people to Soldier Field despite the poor performances on the field this season. I love the optimism, but hopefully, next season the football ops team gets it right, and it won’t matter. Despite the fact that it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, I still firmly believe there is a huge future for this sport and this club in Chicago.