CHICAGO — New Chicago Fire FC head coach Raphael Wicky preached patience in his first press conference since taking the job, while at the same time promising everything he thought he could after just two training sessions with his new players.
It's an understandable sentiment given the realities of his position.
Off the field, the last several months have seen rapid change for the club. A new majority owner, new stadium, new logo and team colors, tweaked name, a new coach and full technical staff and even a new yet-to-be-named broadcast team.
On-field change has been slower. Despite the additions including midfielder Alvaro Medran and Designated Player striker Robert Beric among a few others, the first-team roster count still stands at just 19 with several positions of need vacant.
“I can guarantee them that we work hard every single day,” Wicky said of his message to Fire fans on Wednesday. “The message to the players on the first day was I want a team of passion. We will try to build as quick as possible a culture and a winning team, but the reality is it takes time to build something. But that’s not an alibi, we want to win.”
Wicky believes the foundation for building that winning culture and mentality is having a team full of players willing to lead in various ways. With the departure of veterans like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Nemanja Nikolic, there is an opportunity for others to absorb responsibility.
“They don’t necessarily need to be older or veteran guys,” Wicky said. “It’s part of your character as a player, you can be a 20-, 21-year-old who has that inside of him.”
Of course, Wicky is not expecting the current roster to fully replace what the Fire have lost. He mentioned center back, defensive midfield, attacking midfield and striker as areas of particular need, and estimated there were five or six roles left to be filled. He was specifically asked about replacing McCarty — the former club captain — both in a technical and leadership capacity, and assured that the club is working to find a player who can be an adequate successor.
“Building a team is really exciting, but building a team also takes time,” Wicky said of the task he and sporting director George Heitz have ahead of them. “It’s not going to be done overnight. I knew when I took the job that I’d have to be a little patient.”
Despite the amount of work left to be done before the club opens their 2020 season on March 1 away to defending MLS Cup champions Seattle, Wicky is aiming higher than simply the club's third playoff berth in 11 years.
“We’re not going to go into the season and say if we don’t [make] the playoffs we’re happy,” he said. “Making the playoffs is obviously one of the big objectives but that shouldn’t be the end of the objectives.”
Wicky said he knows fans want to see not just wins, but ‘nice football.’ And although defining that is always a bit subjective, he said he is committed to doing what is necessary to attract fans to the club’s much larger new home at Soldier Field.
“It’s up to us to play well, to fight hard so we attract as many people as possible,” he said. “It’s difficult to define nice football but hard work, I think that brings people back.”