Whether it's defender Mauricio Pineda or recent debutant Brian Gutierrez, Chicago Fire FC have emphasized signing Homegrown Players amid their rebrand and new on-field direction under sporting director George Heitz and head coach Raphael Wicky.
Had that duo arrived ahead of the 2019 season, perhaps they might've convinced left back Andrew Gutman to join the movement.
Instead, the 23-year-old will visit with FC Cincinnati when Chicago make their long-awaited Soldier Field return on Tuesday evening (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada). Gutman carries fondness for the club where he spent his academy years, before enjoying a storied career at Indiana University and starting his professional career with Scottish powerhouse Celtic FC.
"I have nothing but love for the club and the city," Gutman said during a conference call. "They made me the player I am today, molding me as a youth player to be ready for the professional level. A lot of the technical staff and the front office guys that were there when I was there aren’t there anymore, so I don’t really know them in that sense. But just looking from a distance, I can see that the technical staff and the front office are taking the club in the right direction.
"I’m always going to be a Chicago Fire fan, I’ve supported them my whole life. So I’m happy to see that the club is moving in the right direction again, because when I was growing up they were one of the better teams in the league. I hope that they can get back to that as quickly as possible."
Gutman remains on loan from Celtic through the end of 2020, making 14 appearances (eight starts) since joining last August. He also spent part of the 2019 season on loan at USL Championship side Charlotte Independence, learning the pro ropes after earning the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy, an award given annually to college soccer's best player.
Gutman's time at Indiana created Homegrown Player buzz, but the All-American defender remained in college and recorded 20 goals and 17 assists across 90 matches. The Fire were then a considerably different club, still under the control of former majority owner Andrew Hauptman, still playing at SeatGeek Stadium (a fair way from downtown in Bridgeview, Ill.), and stuck in a stretch of four seasons without postseason play (2013-'16).
Gutman didn't say whether an earlier rebrand would've made a difference in his stance. But he's clearly in favor of it now.
"It will be a pretty special moment for me, especially with Chicago opening up back in Soldier Field again," Gutman said. "Growing up, that’s all we knew about, was Chicago playing downtown in Soldier Field. And for them to go back, it’s great for them, it’s great for the city, it’s great for the club. I’m really excited for the game on Tuesday."