Fire GM says the team is focused on Chicago, not the suburbs
More and more it's all about the city rather than the suburbs for the Chicago Fire.
Meeting with local media for the second time this season before Wednesday night's 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew, Fire general manager/team president Nelson Rodriguez made it clear the club is focusing its efforts on Chicago.
"We are renewing our commitment and our connection to the city," Rodriguez said.
The Fire recently amended its lease with SeatGeek Stadium in southwest suburban Bridgeview to allow it to play games inside the city limits. The Fire is expected to move back to Soldier Field, the team's original home stadium, though the agreement with Bridgeview allows the Fire the option to play some games at SeatGeek Stadium again.
Eventually, it is expected the club will build a new soccer-specific stadium near the city center, though Rodriguez said that is not an immediate priority.
"We have had a preliminary conversation with the folks running Soldier Field, and we continue to look at all options," he said. "There's no timeline designated, but every minute and every day matters knowing where we end up, where our fans can find us. So we're planning for that future, and no other decisions at this moment have been made."
Rodriguez made it clear he isn't worried about a club that averages a league-low 11,572 fans a game playing in a stadium that seats 61,500.
"It's not about the size of the venue," he said. "I do think the location of the venue matters. It's been challenging to get here for many fans. And Soldier Field is well-known, easier to get to, and even on events like the Gold Cup final (July 7), which had 62,000 fans, it clears out pretty easily and pretty quickly."
Of course for many suburban fans, and even some city fans, Soldier Field isn't as convenient to get to as SeatGeek Stadium, especially for weeknight games.
"It means they might have to travel a little further," Rodriguez said of suburban fans.
On the current team -- now 5-9-8, 23 points, and in 10th place -- Rodriguez said he will be more aggressive in looking to upgrade the roster.
"We have shown, I think, a more than reasonable amount of patience for the group to come together and to jell. That hasn't happened. And so I'll also be more aggressive in seeking opportunities rather than waiting to see what may come our way," he said.
The current transfer window closes Aug. 7.
Rodriguez said he warned the team that it had a five-game window to improve its results. That window ended with Saturday's 2-1 loss to last-place FC Cincinnati.
"While the effort and intention were there, the results weren't. And so our team, and the entire league, knows that we're open for business," he said.
Clearly, Rodriguez isn't happy with the team's performance this season.
"It always comes back to wins and losses and sitting below the red line, it's aggravating. It's frustrating. It's heartbreaking. And there's nothing that I can say that you haven't heard quite a few times over already," he said.
He couldn't have been feeling better after 11th-place Columbus came from behind twice Wednesday night to earn a draw.
The Fire scored the game's first goal in the 28th minute on an 18-yard volley by Lemont's Djordje Mihailovic. Gyasi Zardes tied the game with his goal just about a minute into the second half.
But the Fire regained the lead in the 63rd minute when C.J. Sapong beat Columbus goalkeeper Joe Bendik to make the score 2-1.
Columbus' Romario Williams tied the game in the 90th minute.