After what has been perhaps the most comprehensive offseason transformation in league history, questions aplenty surround Chicago Fire FC heading into 2020.
Featuring ingredients familiar only to an expansion offseason — new owner, new (old?) stadium, new brand, new sporting front office staff, new coaching staff, three new Designated Players and (currently) a total of 12 new players — the Fire's metamorphosis is complete. Now, it'll become smooth and comfortable with familiarity.
The transformation this offseason in the first team, led by new sporting director Georg Heitz, technical director Sebastian Pelzer and head coach Raphael Wicky, will mark the sporting course for the Fire for years to come.
“Of course, it takes time," Wicky told MLSsoccer.com this week. "We knew we weren’t going to have the full team ready in preseason, so that is a process that will take some time, but I’m positive we’ll see a good team.”
The Fire added forward Robert Beric, winger Ignacio Aliseda and defensive midfielder Gaston Gimenez as their three DPs this winter to headline their rebuild. Other key additions include fullback Miguel Angel Navarro, defender Boris Sekulic and attacking midfielder Luka Stojanovic. The club's goal was to ensure they put together a hard-working and versatile squad.
Versatility not only among positions, but tactical styles. Rather than take the easy, empty answer heard all too often from introductory interviews about how badly he wants the team to control possession, play entertaining soccer, score goals, etc., Wicky went a bit deeper.
“I don’t really believe you can only have one play-style," Wicky said. "I don’t think you can only be a possession-based team or only a counterattacking team. High-level football is where the top teams are good at everything. We have to be good at all phases of the game, it’s stuff we work on and want to see on the field. Then we’ll see. Is it good for one game to go high, or be a bit lower? Then it comes down to the match plan. We’re trying to put out a team that’s good in different phases, not only in one.”
Setting out to accomplish their goals, the brain trust put together profiles of players for the first team.
“There were certain profiles we were looking for," Wicky explained. "In this league, and every league, the football has become so athletic. We were looking for players that obviously had football intelligence and technique, but also certain physical attributes like speed and size. With Navarro and Aliseda, we have players who are quite dynamic, then players who add a little bit of size, like Beric and Gaston. They’re good footballers too.”
Beric brings the squad another dependable, hard-working forward with an eye for goal just as Nemanja NIkolic was during his time with the club. He's ready to debut on Sunday, having been around the longest of the three DPs. Aliseda is a relative unknown to those around these parts, coming from the Argentinian league. Wicky adds that the 19-year-old's pace and directness will be key, while he'll continue developing in Chicago.
Lastly, Gimenez arrived from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina, where he was a key player and leader for the squad. More of the same is expected of him in Chicago.
“He a very intelligent player, he reads the game well and is tactically very smart," Wicky said. "At Velez, he played different positions: No. 6, No. 8 and even center back in a back three. He was a captain, that means his personality is good. He’s a leader. Our team needed a guy like that in front of the defense."
With all those new signings under a new coach, this Sunday against the Seattle Sounders (3 pm ET | ESPN in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) will be the first data point of change.
The Fire won't be have anything near their full squad, with Gimenez and Aliseda not yet with the team after they were signed recently, while a few other key recruits didn't have a full preseason. It's a work in progress, such is the nature of their unique offseason. Heitz was announced as sporting director on December 20, Wicky only a few days before New Year's Eve.
"These guys, especially the experienced guys, will adapt pretty quickly," Wicky said. "But they’re not here yet! They first need to get their visas, train with us then we’ll integrate them. But they’re good players, they’ll adapt pretty quickly. I’m not worried about that.”