2020 has been a year unlike any other for the Chicago Fire FC. 2020 has been a year unlike any other for Major League Soccer (MLS). 2020 has been a year unlike any other for any sports league in the world. 2020 is a year the world never expected, experienced before, and will probably never experience again.
So what makes 2020 so peculiar and different and more specifically what makes 2020 so peculiar and different for Chicago Fire FC? Is it the Quarantine/Lockdown in place in the city and for the club? Is it the virus itself and the lack of knowledge we have about it? Is it the lack of job opportunities and the mass amount of small business closing around the city? Could it be the “house arrest” and lack of available options for going out or our lack of freedoms in general? Or is it the rebrand of this great club?
All of the above play a part in this peculiar and different type of society we are now engulfed inside of. Me personally, this new rebrand and logo perfectly encapsulate the oddity, utter silliness, and joke of the year 2020 has been and become. Between the virus/quarantine/lockdown and the Fire rebrand there is so much that doesn’t make sense and there’s not enough information out there of why it happened.
With all of that said though, how has the Fire handled 2020? What has gone right? What has gone wrong? Who are the Chicago Fire FC? What can they do to improve on their bumpy start? How can they make this season more memorable? With these questions in mind I shall provide the answer. Let’s get started.
2020 has been a peculiar and different kind of year for the Chicago Fire FC. The team had just changed it’s logo in late 2019 and the fans were not and still are not taking to it kindly once 2020 came around. In January, 2020 the team released their new primary jersey which isn’t bad. It’s obviously different from their previous home uniforms which gave them one of their nicknames “The Men in Red.” Then there was the underwhelming away uniform that is basically all white (very close to last year’s away uniform) except for the new logo.
The Fire have been handling 2020 almost like a new expansion team. The front office was moving from Bridgeview to the city again very close to Soldier Field. SeatGeek Stadium has turned into a concert venue only as well as a practice arena for the Fire team still. Even the Chicago Red Stars, the women’s professional soccer team, moved out of SeatGeek Stadium.
The Fire hired a new sporting director, head coach, assistant coaches, and training staff. The new coach, Raphael Wicky, is a familiar face and a friend to the new sporting director, George Heitz. The two used to have the same jobs at FC Basel back in Switzerland. A former Fire player from the MLS Cup/US Open Cup double team in 1998 and former head coach, Frank Klopas, became the new top assistant coach.
Mansueto made a promise to Chicago and to Chicago Fire FC fans that they would bring in three new DP’s or Designated Players (players that you can pay above the salary cap) and in February of 2020 the Fire and Mansueto were still not fulfilling their promise. Filling up the entirety of Soldier Field was a shooting star of a goal to fulfill but Mansueto kept boasting that he could make that come true.
One of the things the Fire did right was invest in a lot of young talent. In the months of January and February the Fire signed seven young homegrown players (kids who grew up and live in the city limits of Chicago or the surrounding suburbs of Chicago). The young homegrown players came in the form of Nicholas Slononia, Andre Reynolds, Javier Casas, Brian Gutierrez, Allan Rodriguez, Mauricio Pineda, and Alex Monis.
The Fire had signed more homegrown players over the 2019/2020 offseason than any other Major League Soccer team had ever done during any other offseason. It was something that Wicky wanted to do and it was something Mansueto wanted the Fire to become known for: the development of young talent from the Chicago area that could become essential parts of the first team.
By the time preseason started Chicago only had 21 players signed on the roster and there was only one DP signed: Robert Beric. Beric had a solid career in Europe before he made the jump to Major League Soccer and to the Chicago Fire FC. He was known for scoring goals and the Fire were in desperate need of a goalscorer. Although the fans were expecting someone more well known and of higher caliber, Beric seemed to fit the bill just fine.
A week after preseason started the Fire announced that they had signed two more DP’s in Ignacio Aliseda and Gastón Giménez. Both of those players had to wait for their green cards to come in and have their paperwork in order before they could even set foot on the field. Other solid pickups the Fire made were in Luka Stojanovic, Boris Sekulic, and Álvaro Medrán. Once again, the Fire had aimed lower than the moonshot ambitions Mansueto instilled in all Chicagoans.
The first game came against the 2019 MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders FC away at Century Link Field. The Fire was able to sort out the rest of roster before the season opener. The only players ineligible were Aliseda and Giménez, two of the three DP’s. After a mad scramble of an offseason full of changes and a restructure of the Fire identity the Fire were taking the field. No one knew how they would look on the field. No one knew how the coaches would handle the players during a game situation. No one knew how the Fire would stack up against the rest of MLS let alone last year’s MLS Cup Champions.
Throughout the first ten to fifteen minutes the Fire looked a little sluggish and were trying to find their rhythm. This tends to be a common theme for any team starting off their season in any league around the world. The Fire were looking to keep up with Seattle who had gained control early on and had a couple good looks within the first ten minutes. Around the fifteen minute mark the Fire gained control and started looking like a very good team. Around the twentieth minute Álvaro Medrán sent a long ball to Djordje Mihailovic who sent a chested through ball in for Robert Beric, and Beric sent a low one time shot right past Stefan Frei, the Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper.
The Fire played the rest of the first half very well and kept up the momentum into the 65th minute. At that point, it looked and felt as if the Fire had a real shot at winning the game. They were in control of the pace of the game, the passing was on target, and they were creating solid chances.
Then Jordan Morris came on for the Seattle Sounders. Five minutes later he snuck in and poked home the Sounders FC first goal. Lackadaisical defending on behalf of Brandt Bronico, who was playing out of position as a right back instead of a central defensive midfielder, led to the first goal. Within another ten minutes Morris had sprinted in for another easy tap in to give the Sounders FC a 2-1 lead. Again, Bronico was the culprit and again he was ball watching and did not communicate with his fellow teammates on the play.
The Fire would go on to lose 2-1. A blown opportunity to start off an uncanny transition with a win ultimately started as a loss. Even though people expected the Fire to lose they played most of that match seemingly deserving the win which made the loss all the more heartbreaking.
Less than a week later the Fire played conference rivals New England Revolution in another away match. The Fire put out the same lineup as they had against the Seattle Sounders FC just six days earlier. Fans believed that if they were nearly able to beat the Sounders FC then maybe this would be an easier match, a sure victory. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The Fire were lucky to walk out of the first half down only 1-0. Chances upon chances were created by the New England Revolution front six. They easily made their way down either side of the field and cross after cross kept coming in and shots would either be just wide or Fire goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm would make a smart play or a big save. In the 28th minute, Adam Buska, a new DP for the Revolution who came from the Polish Ekstraklasa, put the Revolution in the lead.
The game remained that way into the second half until the Fire FC’s Jonathan Bornstein headed in a goal off of a corner kick to tie the game. Somehow the Fire had managed to sneak one in and from the oldest player on the team at that. The Fire managed to hold onto the 1-1 scoreline and walked out with their only point on the season.
In the days that followed, the Fire and Major League Soccer were keeping a close eye on the Coronavirus that was spreading around the world at a rapid place. On Thursday March 12th, 2020 nine days before Chicago Fire FC were to make have their homecoming match and home opener at Soldier Field, Major League Soccer along with Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association had put a hold on their seasons in the name of a suspension due to the Coronavirus.
With the lockdown/quarantine in place no team could practice and everyone, everywhere had to stay inside unless. The only people who could leave their homes were essential workers or citizens who needed to go to the grocery store or a homed good stores like Menards or Home Depot in case anything needed to be repaired or replaced in a building or a house. People had to social distance six feet apart and could not be in groups of ten or more people.
With business forced to shut down and people all across the city and the country laid off things seem uncertain for the Chicago Fire FC. Even before the quarantine/lockdown things were uncertain for the Fire. Nobody planned for the season to be halted after two games. Mansueto didn’t plan on this rebranded team attracting all kinds of backlash and didn’t plan on a virus putting a halt to the homecoming party.
Even with the quarantine/lockdown in place the front office, coaches, and players have all been in contact with each other via video chat and through social media. Even though everyone is apart they can still come together through these various technological channels of communication. Practice has been going on individually in the players' own respective homes and business plans are being put together while there is time for discussion and planning.
Currently, the plan is for the Major League Soccer to resume play in early July with the regular season to be played into December. Teams are finally able to come back to training with the proper social distancing and the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) in place.
With only two games played in the 2020 season, the Fire have been given a generous and eccentric gift if you will. All the players have been a part of the team for two and a half months now. One of the things they can do is continue building players bonds off the field and develop team chemistry that they can bring to the field when play resumes.
Defense had been a significant issue over the course the offseason and part of preseason and even into the first two games. With the arrival of the players mentioned above those defensive issues might be patched up. The only thing left to do is to move the ball around well enough to create more big chances and solid shots in the box and in turn earn goals and victories. The rest is up to the coaches and players in fixing these errors and truly come into their own with this new character and brand.
With all that in mind making the playoffs would be an achievement for this Fire team. The new brand and image have not latched onto the psyche of the Fire fans and doing that could help that out. Perhaps taking the US Open Cup with more serious intent to win some sort of championship and earn a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League would be a great outcome I could see for this team. It would surely help change the way fans view the new logo but it still could not fix the new logo. Only Mansueto and the Fire front office can bring back the true Fire badge. The best thing the Fire can do is become a stronger team with a lot to prove and go on out and make Chicago proud once this season resumes. Either way this is all we can say: GO FIRE!