And with that, the metamorphosis is complete.
With the latest unveiling of the Chicago Fire’s new identity — a brand new badge and a name tweak from SC for “Soccer Club” to FC for “Football Club” — there’s frankly not much left to change in a club makeover that is unprecedented in MLS history.
The Columbus Crew experienced a fresh start in 2019 with the arrival of the Haslam and Edwards families, but that’s a multi-year project that’s very much in progress. The 2005 FC Dallas team experienced some big changes — city, stadium, identity — but nothing as comprehensive as what the Fire are experiencing. The Sporting Kansas City reboot in 2011 similarly involved a new stadium and look, but it didn’t extend to the squad.
By comparison, the overhaul of the Fire since new owner Joe Mansueto took over full control of the club has proven as impressive for its breadth as it has been for its swiftness. No one could have predicted this timeline of events:
- Sept. 13: Mansueto becomes sole owner of the club
- Sept. 13: On the same day, the club announces it will move to downtown Chicago
- Oct. 8: Bastian Schweinsteiger announces his retirement
- Oct. 9: Fire make move to Soldier Field official and announce 2020 home opener, vs. Atlanta United on 3/21
- Oct. 10: Fire sign ex-Real Madrid midfielder Alvaro Medran
- Oct. 12: Former Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic announces he will not return to Chicago
- Oct. 14: Fire announce they have 14 players under contract for 2020
- Nov. 12: Starting midfielder Dax McCarty traded to Nashville SC
- Nov. 13: Fire part ways with head coach Veljko Paunovic
- Nov. 14: Homegrown defender Grant Lillard is traded to expansion side Inter Miami
- Nov. 21: Chicago Fire SC become Chicago Fire FC and unveil a new badge
That long list — all occurring in a span of roughly two months — makes the 2020 Chicago Fire FC feel a bit more like an expansion team (and at this point they roughly have as many players as Inter Miami and Nashville SC). That’s how fresh a start Mansueto is affording the club.
And that’s also what arguably makes the Fire the most interesting team to follow this offseason and into 2020: Mansueto isn’t playing.
In recent years MLS has also experienced a transformation into a league where clubs are racing to outdo one another. One year it’s Toronto FC seeing their investments rewarded with the best season in MLS history, only for Atlanta United to one-up them soon after. And we all know what LAFC have accomplished in their short time in the league. And that arms race will continue into the new decade with several more clubs inserting themselves into the mix, led by deep-pocketed owners with visions of greatness.
Chicago is about to step into that picture.
Led by a billionaire owner — Mansueto is chairman and founder of global financial services firm Morningstar — Chicago Fire FC have that same stated ambition.
“There’s no reason we couldn’t be equal to or surpassing those cities,” Mansueto said in October about the prospect of competing with clubs like Atlanta, Seattle and Portland. “I can’t predict whether it’s in one year, three years or five years but to me there’s no question it’ll happen. There’s a rabid fanbase here for soccer and it’s just the timing … I have no doubt we’ll fill this stadium.”
By “this stadium” he means Soldier Field. By “fill this stadium” he means 61,500. Mansueto has a plan and there’s no reason to believe it won’t come to fruition based on how methodical the rebuild has been. This is the same owner who reportedly paid over $60 million to buy out the Bridgeview stadium lease in order to move the team into Soldier Field.
Let your imagination run wild for a bit as to what Chicago — the third-largest city in the United States, known for its rabid passion for its sports teams — can become in MLS if they can in fact match Atlanta, Seattle and Portland. For a fan base that has had to endure one of the toughest decade-long stretches of any club in MLS, that’s a mind-blowing proposition.
The crest and name change? It was practically a necessity if the Fire are truly transforming into the next force in MLS. A new look for a new era makes sense.
For some this day will undoubtedly carry with it some nostalgia. The Bob Bradley-Peter Nowak-Hristo Stoitchkov teams of 1998-2001 were among the best and they could compete with any in the league on any day. The 2007-2009 Cuauhtemoc Blanco era gave Chicago a star to put up against any in the league and he carried those teams to three straight Conference finals.
If Joe Mansueto’s vision comes to be, the new Chicago Fire FC will be a combination of its two most memorable eras: a great team with big stars. But the trophies will need to follow. That’s what will make this offseason so intriguing: Who do they bring in as manager? Who are the new players and faces of the club? These decisions will go a long way toward setting the tone and bringing that new club crest to life.
That feeling of anticipation and hope for what may be in store is one of the best parts of sports fandom and the long-suffering Fire supporters should revel in it. Supporters of the other teams in the Eastern Conference will experience these developments a tad differently: The competition is already pretty fierce as is and it’s only going to get tougher. Chicago Fire FC mean business.