For the 10th time in the last 12 years – barring nothing short of a sporting and mathematical miracle – Chicago Fire FC will miss the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
It’s been a barren run for one of the league’s proudest clubs, which missed the playoffs just once in their first 12 seasons and stocked their trophy cabinet with an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield and four US Open Cups.
Now, the Fire begin the search for their sixth full-time head coach since 2010 after the club parted ways with Raphael Wicky on Wednesday after just under two years in charge.
“Ultimately this is professional sports and we all depend on results,” sporting director Georg Heitz told media during a virtual press conference. “In the end, we didn’t deliver the results we all wanted to deliver.”
Wicky had a club contract option for next season, which raised some eyebrows at the timing of the move given it came just hours after the Fire beat New York City FC 2-0 on Wednesday evening. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported overnight that Chicago would be moving on from the Swiss manager, but the timing was in part with Wicky in mind, said Heitz.
“We decided not to pick up his option for 2022,” Heitz said. “As you are all aware of his family medical situation, we wanted to release him with immediate effect to allow him to travel to his family.”
Wicky was away from the team for several games in July when he flew to Switzerland to be with his father during a medical emergency. Heitz noted Wicky was made aware of the decision on Wednesday but didn’t specify whether it was before or after the match.
The move starts another new era and perhaps yet another rebuild for Chicago, the most recent of which came when Heitz and Wicky joined ahead of the 2020 campaign, as new owner Joe Mansueto also officially took over the club.
It was billed as a winter of change. The club moved back into Soldier Field and unveiled a new logo – another decision that has been repealed with a redesigned logo set to debut in 2022.
Heitz was appointed that December and Wicky soon followed, suggesting Heitz was hired with a pretty good idea Wicky would be his first head coach rather than a measured coaching search given the time constraints. Preseason was right around the corner, after all.
The pair worked together in Switzerland at FC Basel, where Wicky rose from youth coach to first-team manager in 2017-18. Heitz was sporting director at Basel from 2009-17.
Now, with Wicky gone, a number of pointed questions came Heitz’s way. The roster was overhauled substantially when he took over, with most key players signed under this regime. Both seasons have been disappointing and Designated Players Ignacio Aliseda, Gaston Gimenez and Robert Beric have produced largely underwhelming results amid infrequent strong moments, ditto for other key acquisitions.
“We always have to question all of our decisions,” Heitz said. “It’d be an excuse to say we didn’t have enough time. We obviously took some wrong decisions [in the past], but we try to do better. I'm still confident we can be successful.”
This coaching search will be more exhaustive and have plenty of time to unfold, though Heitz was sparse on specifics. He opted not to highlight key characteristics the club is looking for, nor a timeline for an expected hire outside of hoping one will be hired ahead of key offseason dates.
“Always as soon as possible, but on the other hand, we have to make the right move and not the fastest move,” Heitz said.
In response to pointed questions about his own level of responsibility for the poor results and his future, Heitz didn’t shy away, saying he hopes to continue in his role as the Fire, once again, head toward a new era.
“If you ask about my future, I’m the wrong person to ask,” Heitz said. “I'm still confident. I will not step down, I think we can be successful.”