Quote Sheet | Sporting Director Georg Heitz, Head Coach Frank Klopas Speak with Media Members


CHICAGO (May 8, 2023) - Chicago Fire FC sporting director Georg Heitz and head coach Frank Klopas spoke with members of the media on Monday afternoon today to discuss the Club’s coaching change.

The Fire will return to action on Tuesday, May 9, when the team hosts MLS expansion side and Midwest rival St. Louis CITY SC in the Round of 32 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at SeatGeek Stadium. The match will begin at 7:00 p.m. CT, and tickets are available for purchase here.

Chicago Fire FC Sporting Director Georg Heitz 

Q.Wondering, first of all, why now, considering both it's relatively early in the second season, Ezra's second season, and also with a pivotal Open Cup game tomorrow. Why did you decide to do this now? 

GEORG HEITZ: Yeah, thanks for the question. I think it's a fair question. You know, we were trying to analyze properly, and we just said, ‘Look, a season can slip away quickly,’ and we really thought that we had to change now. Now, you can always discuss whether we could have waited until tomorrow. There's never a good (time) for such a decision. It's always a difficult moment, of course, especially for the ones that are concerned.  

Q.I wonder if you can go through kind of looking back on the decision to hire Ezra, and what you think kind of went wrong, especially obviously in the last few months but maybe in the big picture overall in the last couple seasons. 

GEORG HEITZ: Well, what shall I say. We were hopeful and we thought the philosophies would be aligned. I think in the past few months, yeah, we realized that the philosophies were not aligned any more, and you will understand that I cannot go into details there. I would like to take the chance to thank Ezra for his hard work and his dedication.

I can understand that he is disappointed. It is never the fault of one person if such a thing happens, and of course, I am the first one who is responsible for the results of this club, for the sporting department of this club, and therefore, I would not blame it on Ezra. It was maybe the whole situation, the whole consolation was no longer one that we considered could be successful.  

Q.I just wanted to ask, your contract is up at the end of the season, did that factor into this decision at all, and how involved would you say you're going to be in the search process given that you don't know if you're going to be here next year yet. 

GEORG HEITZ: Thanks for the question. It had no influence at all. My job is to do the best or to do what I think is best for this club, and I only think about the club and not about myself in such a situation.  

We have announced, as you know, that Frank Klopas will be our head coach for the remainder of the season, and then we'll take it from there and see who will be there, who will be here to decide on the future head coach.  

Q.In what ways, I mean, do you think that Ezra was coaching the team any differently this year than he was, say, last year? Did you sense a shift in tactics, in the way he was relating to the players, in the way he was making decisions, any of those things? 

GEORG HEITZ: Well, the only thing I can say is that you also saw that we dropped a lot of points in the last minutes of the games or in the last 30 minutes of the games, and this was something that was more and more concerning for us. That's one thing.  

Whether ultimately this was because of– due to coaching decisions or not, that's hard to say. Everyone in professional sports will always be assessed because of results, due to results, and that concerns me but that also, of course, concerns any head coach in professional sports.  

Q.You guys appointed Frank and kept C.J. and Zach around. Frank is someone who has lost more games than he's won as a manager in Major League Soccer. Why is he the right person to keep around and elevate to that position, and why are C.J. and Zach still with the club at this point? 

GEORG HEITZ: Short answer is they all know how to win trophies. I strongly believe in Frank's skills as a head coach. He has a lot of qualities when it comes to communication.  

Maybe I also have to add that I really think, and I'm not the only one in this club, I really think that we have a team that should make the playoffs.  

So, we are hopeful that Frank can turn the wheel around and that we will start winning the games. We've dominated a couple of games, but we have to close out these games. I strongly believe that Frank and his team, that they can turn the wheel around.  

Q.There's a summer transfer window coming up, and you guys still have one open DP slot, and as Alex mentioned, your contract, you're up at the end of the season. Will you be looking for a designated player this summer, knowing that that designated player could outlive your tenure with the Fire? 

GEORG HEITZ: Most probably. Most probably, yes.  

Q.Do you think that's a wise move for the long-term future of the club, though, considering your contract situation? 

GEORG HEITZ: Well, I don't think I need to answer this question because I'm not the one who should answer this question, and you know this as well as I do.  

Q.First of all, I want to find out why after selling Jhon Durán to Aston Villa and Slonina to Chelsea, Chicago Fire – $30 million, so why has the club failed to invest these huge sums of money into the club? That is my first question. The second question is, fans are agitated about the services of Shaqiri. Personally, how do you feel about his performance? 

GEORG HEITZ: So, I'll start with your second question. Of course, Xherdan is not happy with his performances. Everybody must improve. Every player must improve, especially the designated players, I understand this. But on the other hand, both of them also were injured, which is always a difficult situation for a professional athlete. And if you cannot perform at your best level due to an injury, this hurts. This hurts. This hurts the team, also. That's clear. So, everybody must improve, and this includes, of course – of course, Shaqiri.  

The first question, we are not playing in a European league. We cannot spend whatever we want in this league, and I think that this club has spent a lot of money in the past, and I mean, we spend a lot of money for also acquiring Durán, don't forget that. The player cost a lot of money when we acquired him. The plan was not to sell him after one season; the plan was to keep him.  But sometimes the dynamics in this industry are not to control. You cannot say no to a player who can go and play in the EPL. I think we found a very good striker with Kei Kamara. We found a very interesting young striker with Georgios Koutsias, and we also invested money in Koutsias, for example.  

I think that it's not correct to say that we did not reinvest.  

Q.I wanted to ask you, speaking to the players, what was their reaction, if you have spoken to them so far, and I'm curious what their reaction was to the change. 

GEORG HEITZ: Yeah, of course I've spoken to the players. I usually say – and everybody in my position would say the same, what we discuss in the locker room stays in the locker room.  

But just generally speaking, it's always a sad moment when this happens; that's clear, and don't expect that anyone was happy. But on the other hand, it is also – it is professional sports, and there is a huge task tomorrow awaiting St. Louis in the U.S. Open Cup.  

So the players are professional athletes and they have to focus on their duties.  

Q.Real quick, this is the second time since you've been here that Frank has taken over at the manager spot. What are the things that you see in him or the characteristics that you see in him that make you think he's not only a good fit back then in 2021 but here to try to get the team back to the playoffs? 

GEORG HEITZ: Well, he knows the league. He knows the league very well and he knows our players. He's been part of this coaching staff for a while now. The coaching staff also always has a say when it comes to the roster building. He knows all the players really, really well. He is someone who likes to speak to the players. He's a positive person. He believes in the players. He cares about people. He cares about his staff – that's also part of the head coach's job is to care about not only about the players but also about the staff. It's a management duty that he has.  

Yeah, he'll do his best.  

Q.Two questions, somewhat related, but maybe a little bit different so bear with me. The first would be, was this move done this early maybe to see just how good this roster is? Obviously there had to be some level of thinking maybe you guys were underperforming where it could be, and the second part, when you do make a move this early in the season, it seems to signal, look, we think we can do more, we can win more. Does that set up maybe an aggressive approach in the summer window to try to bolster this team and make signings, trades, to make a push for something big? 

GEORG HEITZ: Yeah, I mean, to change the coach early might seem – might look a bit aggressive. But on the other hand, you also want to provide the new coaching staff, you know, with enough time to also implement their ideas. So that's definitely one of the reasons. Then I think -- but that's my personal opinion; that the table does not reflect the strengths of this team.  

I think we are much better than we look at the moment, which also, you know, is a good segue to your second question. Because no, probably not a very aggressive and not a very busy transfer window in summer for us because we believe that this team, basically, is strong enough to make the playoffs.  

Of course, everybody knows, as I think Brian mentioned, we have a DP slot open, and yeah, we will of course discuss with the coaching staff and see what we can do there.  

Q.When Frank was a head coach permanently with the Montreal Impact and with the Fire, his tactics were different to what Ezra's are right now. Are you expecting a shift in how the team will approach games on the field for the remainder of the season? 

GEORG HEITZ: He will change things. Every head coach has different ideas; that's clear. What things he will change – you will have an opportunity to ask him in a couple of minutes about his ideas, but of course he will change things because we also, we want to start winning games. We should start winning games. And so we definitely have to change a couple of things. Sometimes it's details. Sometimes it's not that obvious. Sometimes it's details. But Frank is also a very sensitive person, and I think he is a soccer expert. He will know what to do. 

Chicago Fire FC Head Coach Frank Klopas 

Q.I guess to start off, having listened to Georg, he felt like there's more out of this roster than we've seen so far this season. What do you see as potential changes you can make off the jump to try to spark something in this team? 

FRANK KLOPAS: Yeah, listen, I definitely believe that we have enough quality and a roster that's good enough to ultimately reach our goal, which is the playoffs, something that we said in the beginning. Then obviously a whole new season is beginning.  

At the moment, I think we are also dealing with some injuries, and it's a really short time to try to change too much, knowing that we have obviously a game tomorrow. Some tactical changes, but more than anything, just making sure that especially in such short notice, that the guys are well-prepared. They have a good understanding of the game plan. They know what to do when they step on the field, and more than anything, just give them confidence, believe in them. I definitely do. I'm fortunate, also that, on the staff, I have some quality people with me who, you know, have spent some of them all their careers putting the Fire jersey on. So they know what it means to put that jersey on, and I think they can transmit that to the group and what it really takes to represent the Fire organization.  

So I think short term, more than anything, it's good to give the team confidence and make sure that they are really clear about the game plan, very clear about their roles on the field, and more than anything, man, it's like we've got to go out there and enjoy the game. That's the most important thing. It's a game that we love. And some moments like this, you know, we kind of forget a little bit of those things but I think you have to bring the joy and we have to go and compete and play with passion and enjoy the game. I think short term, more than anything, those are the things that I can try to focus on.  

Q.When you took over for Raphael Wicky two years ago, it was basically just to see out the season, maybe get some young kids some experience but now there's two-thirds of the season left and a Cup possibility as well. So how does that change your mentality, as opposed to two years ago? 

FRANK KLOPAS: I think it doesn't really change much because I'm in a role that, look, I want to win every game. Whether we're six, seven games or now, it's obviously more than half the season; the club has entrusted me to do a role. I think I have the experience over my playing career and also have been a head coach here before in difficult situations to step in and do the job. For me I'm going to put everything I have, all my energy and my passion. I care a lot about this club, about the city, and I will bring all my experience along with my colleagues. 

Like I said, I have a really great staff with me and so I approach this in a way that, we have a lot of games left. There's a lot to play for. Obviously there's no bigger game than tomorrow, an opportunity to advance in the U.S. Open Cup. We take this very serious, the club does, over the years. We have also myself with C.J. and Zach, guys that have won the Open Cup with the Fire and they know what it takes, and we can transmit some of that focus and determination to the players.  

But I approach it the same way. I want to do the best job that I can and I want to try to help the team reach its goal, which is to be in the playoffs and continue to do so, but try to win an Open Cup, another one with this team. That would be an incredible accomplishment, I feel, with some guys that have played together to be able to be on the staff together and to be able to raise a trophy that, would be incredible.  

Q.One of the big talking points for the fans and pundits has been the failure to get the most out of big stars like Xherdan Shaqiri and Jairo Torres. Does anything in particular stand out to you about that situation and how those players can help you reach the playoffs? 

FRANK KLOPAS: I think they are both quality players. Myself, having an opportunity to see Shaq every day in training, the guy has got so much quality; and I know that a lot of the people haven't seen it in games where he has had the impact that I believe he can.  

You know, last year in the season, I believe he started really well, his ability to make passes in the final third and put teammates in great spots to score. I think he was able to do that. I think this is something that he can continue to do but he understands that as a DP, there's a big responsibility on him also to contribute, to score goals, to put assists on the field. But it has to be a team effort. He's not the one guy, the one piece that's going to solve all the problems. I think he can do his part. I think he can do more, that's for sure. I think maybe there's, you know, got to find a way how you can get him to have a bigger impact in games and maybe he takes one game where he has, you know, a breakout game where he's able to do that. But he's got tremendous quality, and myself, I believe in order for this team to move forward and reach the goals that we believe we can, Shaqiri has to play a big part in that because he's got so much quality that he can impact the game at any given moment.  

With Jairo, the thing with Jairo, he's been dealing with injuries. There's nothing he can do. It's been frustrating for him. It's been frustrating for us when you have a player of his quality, and now who missed a big portion of the season last year, and now he's very close but he's not quite there yet. So I think he's very close where now he can become available for selection for the team. But he's also a player that I think can bring so much to the team, and it's been unfortunate that we haven't been able to have him because of injuries.  

Q.You mentioned Xherdan Shaqiri. Is there a possibility this season that you implement an offense with him and Brian Gutiérrez on the field together. It's been a big talking point throughout the year. Obviously, health has been an issue for Shaqiri, coming back from it, but do you see the two of them thriving on the field together? 

FRANK KLOPAS: Definitely. I think they are both quality players, and I think it's been really impressive to see. I've been here now, even with Rapha (Wicky) and Guti (Brian Gutierrez) Is a young player, and we gave him a lot of playing time. You could see his development year after year and we talked about him having a bigger impact in the final third and really maturing and being more consistent in his play over 90 minutes. Man, he's definitely grown into really a difference-maker in this league. There have been times even this year where both have played on the field. It's just, you know, at times, you have to see where Guti has been able to be at his best. I think when he plays and he can find space in the half-pockets, where he can get the ball and turn and face at people, he's been really special, and right now, I think there's another element to his game, his final passes, his ability to finish play is getting much stronger.  

So yeah, there's definitely a way, we have in the past, and I think continue to see where we can put both of them in the best spots for them to be successful, whether that's in the 4-2-3-1, maybe that's in a 4-3-3 where Shaqiri can also be out wide as a winger coming inside in the half-space. He's played there before with the national team. I've watched a lot of his games, playing as a ten and out wide in a 4-3-3.  

I think we also have be to more creative and see where we can put the special players in positions where they can be at their best, because those are the kind of players that the fans want to see.  

And at the end of the day, I think the fans pay (for) tickets because they want to see a show. Soccer is an exciting game and we want to see special players, and those are two are two very special players that the fans definitely want to come out and watch.  

Q.Unless, maybe I missed this, and I apologize, but will be adding to your staff? I know that you have C.J. Brown and Zach Thornton right now. Will there be any additions to the coaching staff? 

FRANK KLOPAS: Well, we have C.J. (Brown), obviously, and Zach (Thornton) and Jeff DeGroot have been the analysts. Also I'm going to ask him to do a little bit more of a role. And we have Nacho Torreño who has been our head of performance guy, but he's got a lot of experience, also, being on the sidelines with different coaches in Europe.  

I think, look, it's just the beginning right now but I have to assess after this game and see what else I need to give us the best opportunity to be successful. As I said, I have tremendous staff with me, both C.J., Zach and Jeff have done a tremendous job and Nacho has got a lot of experience. As you can tell, my hair is very gray, so it seems like I have a lot of experience over the years. But yeah, I just think we have to evaluate. It's the first day. We play tomorrow. It's been not an easy day overall. A lot of stuff to deal with.  

At the end of the day, you know, look, soccer brings people from all over the world together, and like I've always said, I think the sport builds friendships that last a lifetime. I think our working relationships might not last a lifetime, but then our friendships do. It's been a difficult standpoint from that part because – from a human level, you build friendships and relationships, and those two guys are very good people and wish them the best, but we have to move on.  

Yeah, we just have to evaluate and see what else is needed, maybe after tomorrow's game and after Saturday's game, also, and see what else is needed. But I can guarantee you that the club is committed. I've always said that and I believe it, an incredible owner. We are very fortunate to have someone like Joe Mansueto at this club who loves the city, who loves this team and seriously, if it's something that we need that will give us an opportunity to better ourselves and to give us an edge, he will be there to support us all the way.