Sure, it’s not completely a done deal, and the players and coaches should continue to fight until mathematical elimination, but after Tuesday night’s loss to CF Montreal it’s a statistical long shot. The Fire would need to win out and get some help from other teams. FiveThirtyEight has the Fire down to a 2% chance to qualify, and elimination could come as soon as Saturday vs. Charlotte.
With that in mind, let’s begin to look ahead at some of the massive questions heading into 2023.
Should Gaga Slonina come back on loan next season?
For me, no. And that’s not a knock on Gaga at all. He’s a fantastic person and an all-world talent, but I think Slonina’s better off going on loan in a European league (if he doesn’t compete for the starting job at Chelsea straight away–and let’s face it, that will be tough). Bringing him back to the Fire would be very familiar and comfortable, and I think going somewhere uncomfortable will help him grow.
Gaga’s departure would also open up the door for Chris Brady to finally compete for the Fire’s No. 1 job. Brady was great at Forward Madison in 2020 and has been a rockstar in MLS Next Pro this season, and he deserves a shot. If he can’t do it just yet, maybe the Fire bring in a savvy league veteran on a one-year deal in 2023 to help mentor Brady. If Gaga does return to Chicago, I’d love to see Brady go on loan somewhere, rather than continue to play for Fire II.
Should Ezra Hendrickson return next season?
Yes, with this caveat–if there’s a change at the top of the sporting department, I would think the new sporting director should have some input on the head coach. That said, while there have been some bumps along the way, I think Ezra’s done a good job this season. The team has shown a lot of fight in these final few games, which is a good sign that the players want to continue to play hard for their coach. Hendrickson is a class act, and he deserves more than one season to get this right. I think if Hendrickson is let go, he’ll pop up again somewhere else and have a lot of success. Much like was the case with Raphael Wicky, the coaching isn’t the biggest problem here.
For those who wonder why Hendrickson has opted to play veterans out-of-position lately rather than untested homegrowns, I say this: Ezra sees training every day, and we don’t (even the media gets kicked out after 15 minutes, so we really can’t glean much of anything from a tactical standpoint). Maybe he’s made the wrong decisions on personnel, but he’s making those decisions after seeing these guys play up close, every day.
Where will Tyler Terens and Tony Meola land next?
With Apple TV moving in league-wide, the Fire’s three-year run on WGN comes to a close on Oct. 9. With that, play-by-play guy Tyler Terens and color commentator Tony Meola will, like all of the broadcast teams around the league, be searching for their next gigs. Meola is a big enough name in American soccer that he should end up somewhere–maybe Apple TV, maybe somewhere else. And this will come as no surprise, but I’ve been a massive fan of Terens for a long time now. He’s passionate, he’s prepared, and he 100% deserves to be one of the top voices calling American soccer matches for years to come. Anyone who sleeps on him will be sorry.
Who will the Fire’s designated players be next season?
This one’s tough. It’s going to be difficult to move Gastón Giménez, a 31-year-old highly paid No. 8 recovering from injury. I can’t imagine many clubs are dying to sign him. Xherdan Shaqiri is a big enough star that some team would snap him up if the club wanted to sell, but the Fire would probably have to take a loss on that huge transfer fee. And Jairo Torres, who has been hurt most of his time here and has shown nothing close to the level of a designated player, will also be tough to move if the Fire want to recoup money. The club could “Lugano” these guys like they did one of their last DP mistakes, Nacho Aliseda, but at some point the Lugano fans will revolt if they realize they’re becoming a dumping ground for Georg Heitz’s bad MLS decisions. So, unless a new sporting director comes in and acts swiftly, or the Fire are willing to take big losses, these three are probably back in 2023.
Should Georg Heitz and Sebastian Pelzer return for 2023?
No. Do I actually need to explain this one?
If Joe Mansueto’s going to move to fire the duo, he should do it immediately. The next sporting and technical directors should have as much time as possible to make things right. If Mansueto’s going to keep them, his idea of measurable success is much different than mine, and fans should start to ask questions about whether he’s the right guy to own the club.
Under their watch, the club has had three straight losing seasons, and far more misses than successes when it comes to signings. Mansueto is by all accounts a fantastic owner with a willingness to invest. He deserves more bang for his buck, and so do Fire fans who spend their hard-earned dollars on this club.
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