Chicago Fire president: We are becoming 'a club of choice'

Updated 5/23/2018 8:27 PM
  • Nelson Rodriguez

    Nelson Rodriguez

Chicago Fire president/general manager Nelson Rodriguez went against the run of play Wednesday.

He did it from a position of strength and with a laser focus on the long term despite the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nature of professional sports.

Meeting the media to discuss the Fire's progress through the first third of the season, Rodriguez projected confidence and optimism, with a dash of defiance mixed in, starting with a 15-minute opening statement.

"To me there is one thing that is very clear and undeniable," Rodriguez said, thinking beyond the first team. "We are a club with a lot of positive momentum and we are quickly becoming a club of choice for people who want to be associated with the best."

It was not what you would expect from a man in charge of a team that is 3-6-2 and in eighth place, 6 points out of playoff position, 11 games into a 34-game season.

"We have momentum, and people want to be a part of this club," he said, including the business side of the club with the first team.

His tone and body language were much different from coach Veljko Paunovic and veteran midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger after Sunday's dispiriting 3-2 loss to Houston. That game dropped the Fire's home record to 2-4-1.

"I think teams better kill us off now if they can, because at some point we're going to put this all together, and I like our chances," he said.

In his third season as team GM, he has no reason to fear for his job, despite the team's on-field struggles. Still counting the months with a slash title -- president/GM -- it's his club now, soccer side and business side.

Owner Andrew Hauptman has given Rodriguez the reins, happy to let Rodriguez be the face of the club and take whatever heat comes. Give me all the heat, Rodriguez answered.

Paunovic is Rodriguez's hire, in the third and final season of his contract. Rodriguez said he wants to sign Paunovic to an extension.

"I'm going to say this one time," Rodriguez said. "Pauno's our coach, and I'll never address the question again because there's no answer I can give that will ever satisfy anyone."

When he was hired in October 2015 he spoke of a three-year plan for the first team. Wednesday he spoke of a new three-year plan, this one integrating all aspects of the club, giving the franchise a unified, long-term vision with the goal of constructing "a modern football club."

Rodriguez made it clear, he's not going to change his values or processes for building the club. He's feeling Theo Epstein-levels of security in his job. And he seemed to enjoy dismissing Cubs owner Tom Ricketts' plans to build a soccer-specific stadium on the north side and bring a second-division USL club to Chicago to compete with the Fire for fans and media.

"One is minor league. We are major league," he said.

He is determined to do things his way, for better or worse. If the market for a player doesn't mesh with his view of a player's worth, then that player won't play in Chicago. If that means the Fire comes up empty in a transfer window or two, it will survive.

Of course fans don't want the Fire to just survive anymore, not after eight seasons without a playoff victory and no trophies since 2006. Rodriguez, however, won't be moved.

"It's to me about process and approach and mentality," he said, "and I believe we're trending correctly."

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