Fire brings in Georg Heitz as new sporting director
The Chicago Fire has made a mess of this off-season. On Friday the club confirmed it has hired Georg Heitz to clean up part of that mess.
Heitz will be sporting director of a club that has left him little time to prepare for the upcoming season. The Fire begins preseason training Jan. 18 and will open the regular season March 1 at Seattle.
Heitz, who is Swiss, will join the Fire after he receives his work visa. He spent eight years with FC Basel 1893 in Switzerland but has not worked with a club since leaving Basel in 2017. Heitz will report directly to owner Joe Mansueto.
The Fire also confirmed off-season rumors that Nelson Rodriguez, the club general manager the last four seasons, will no longer be involved in the soccer side of the club. In Rodriguez's four seasons in charge of soccer operations, the Fire made the playoffs only once, losing 4-0 to New York Red Bulls at home in its lone playoff game.
Rodriguez said in October the club was looking to fill what became the sporting director position, though at the time he said the position was intended for someone to support Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic.
Rodriguez will remain team president, putting him in charge of business operations.
Heitz will need to hire a coach, staff and support personnel after the Fire waited until Nov. 13 -- more than a month after the 2019 season ended -- to dismiss Paunovic, his assistant coaches and many others.
The Fire went 41-58-37 the last four seasons under Rodriguez and Paunovic.
Heitz also will need to learn Major League Soccer's complicated roster and salary-cap rules, which might change when the league and players union agree to a new collective bargaining agreement that is now being negotiated. Heitz has no experience in MLS or American soccer.
The Fire has just 17 players on its roster, but two or three of them are young homegrown signings who probably will not play for the first team in 2020. All three designated player roster slots are open.
Heitz takes over a club that had a miserable decade, making the playoffs only twice, scoring just one playoff goal. The Fire hasn't won a playoff game since 2009.
The Fire finished last in attendance in MLS in 2019 while playing in 20,000-seat SeatGeek Stadium in near-Southwest suburban Bridgeview, averaging 12,324 fans a game. The team will play at 61,500-seat Soldier Field in 2020, but ticket sales are rumored to be languishing.
The Fire declined to comment about 2020 season-ticket sales.
In addition, a long-planned club rebrand released in November met with poor reviews and seems only to have angered what remains of the fan base.
Heitz was not made available to speak with the Daily Herald.
"In every position at our football club -- both on and off the field -- we want to have a world-class professional in each role," Mansueto said in a team news release. Mansueto became the club's sole owner in September. "We know we have found that in Georg, who we are excited to welcome to the Fire family. Georg's experience, inclusive of leading FC Basel to eight consecutive Swiss titles, will help us in our primary goal of winning championships."