As dominant as the performance was, the man in the spotlight wasn’t on the field. It was new team owner Joe Mansueto, watching from SeatGeek Stadium in his first game since taking over from Andrew Hauptman.
“We dedicated the win to him,” left back Jonathan Bornstein said of Mansueto. “We gave him the game ball. He was excited. He talked a little bit about his ideas, but more than anything he was proud of the team.”
Mansueto, a Chicago entrepreneur who initially acquired a 49 percent stake in the team last July, completed a full takeover from Hauptman this week. Though still a relatively new presence within the organization, Mansueto has clearly made an early impression.
“For me, he was always in the locker room before the games, he was the one that I was associating very positive things with the club,” Bornstein said of Mansueto, who has made it a point to attend as many games as possible since buying the minority stake. “I’m really happy [he’s leading] the team and we’re moving forward with him.”
However, neither Bornstein nor head coach Veljko Paunovic wanted to downplay the role of Hauptman in the club’s history. For one, Paunovic began his postgame remarks on the ownership change by thanking Hauptman, who took over in 2007.
Around the locker room, nobody wanted to pretend the team plays in a vacuum. SeatGeek Stadium’s atmosphere felt different, perhaps a reflection of the buzz around the team and news of a move to downtown Chicago.
“Everything that happens around the club, around the team, it affects in some way,” Paunovic said. “But it’s how you channel and deal with that.”
On Saturday, it was channeled into a four-goal victory and optimism not just for the team’s future, but also its present. The Fire are three points out of the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference standings, though have just three games remaining in their push to make the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
If that doesn’t pan out, a positive attitude in the locker room and the stands can’t hurt.
“On our end, we try and stay focused, come to training each day, put in the work and try to win the games,” said Bornstein. “All the other stuff, it affects us in the long run, but in the immediate there’s nothing we can do to help or change that. So we just continue to focus on the job at hand and that’s winning the next three games.”