With coach Paunovic to return for 2020, Fire will see big changes but not a total teardown
Instead of a fresh start, the Chicago Fire will get a tepid reset this off-season.
There will be the move to Soldier Field from SeatGeek Stadium, and significant changes on the roster already have begun. But fans hoping to see new owner Joe Mansueto begin his tenure with a housecleaning of the front office leadership and the technical staff will be disappointed.
Fire general manager and team president Nelson Rodriguez confirmed Monday that coach Veljko Paunovic will be back in 2020. Rodriguez and Paunovic will enter their fifth season in Chicago together, which means Mansueto is showing a surprising level of patience given the pair's paltry 41-58-37 record in that time.
That time has included just one playoff appearance, a 4-0 first-round loss to New York Red Bulls in 2017.
"I understand that there will be skepticism or perhaps even some distrust," said Rodriguez, who has become something of a lightning rod to the club's supporters groups for the team's failures on the field and his controversial decisions about off-field issues. "You are what your record says you are."
So why believe he and Paunovic can do better in 2020?
"There's some combination of data, feel, some combination of third-party opinion, all that goes into the mix," he said.
But would that be considered elsewhere? Cincinnati, Colorado, Houston, Montreal, New England and Orlando City all dismissed their coaches this season, though they all had less time on the job than Paunovic.
Still, Rodriguez remains confident, even defiant.
"It's hard for someone to convince me that we're not good enough. All the underlying metrics should say that we're not just a playoff team, we're probably top three. Or at least top three in the conference," Rodriguez said, noting the team's plus-8 goal differential and ability to create good scoring chances.
There will be some changes, however. Rodriguez and Paunovic will have greater resources with which to work in signing players and adding support staff under Mansueto.
But they will need to just plain be better also, and Rodriguez said he is searching for a support person in a yet-to-be-defined role to help him and the technical staff.
"I have some things in mind that need to change and have to change, and we'll get better. And if not then we'll be changed," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez wouldn't say what those things are. Here are some thoughts.
Paunovic's doghouse always seems full. He has had trouble developing young players. He and Rodriguez have uncovered several international and domestic players who clearly couldn't hack it in MLS, and Paunovic has made tactical decisions that seemed to confuse players and fans alike.
Paunovic's teams have played hard but too often seem prone to inexcusable, game-changing mistakes. This season the Fire didn't lack for good scoring chances, but it was almost comical how badly the Fire missed so many of those good chances.
Paunovic and Rodriguez are getting still another chance. Will it be their last?
• Rodriguez again addressed the team's move to downtown Chicago from Southwest suburban Bridgeview:
"For sure we recognize that that creates inconveniences or greater distances for the suburban market. We'll have to win them over with our fan experience and with our product to make up for the extra journey," he said.