group huddle

Quote Sheet | Sporting Director Georg Heitz hosts end-of-season press conference

Chicago Fire FC Sporting Director Georg Heitz
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Opening remarks…
“Hello everybody, thanks for joining us today and thank you also for covering us the whole season. It has been a special season (due to the pandemic), we all know (that), I don't want to speak too much about that. Obviously, we are still a bit disappointed because our goal was clear, we wanted to make the playoffs, especially with 10 teams in the Eastern Conference being in the playoffs in the end. Nevertheless, I promise you one thing, we will work hard to bounce back. We will work hard to improve and make it better next season. But thank you for being with us, thank you for being interested in what we are doing, in times that were also difficult for all of you guys, we know this.”

On how much flexibility the team has to improve the team with so many players already under contract...
“Thank you for this question. One thing that we absolutely will have a focus on is continuity, because it's one thing that we think that (was lacking). Also due to what we did last winter, we had, I think until now, 18 new signings since I have joined the club, which is too many. We cannot be successful with that. So, we think that we laid the foundation and we would really like to keep most of the players that we have this season. Of course, we will also try to strengthen the squad, the roster, by signing maybe two, three more players.”

On which areas the Club is most looking to upgrade...
"This is what the agents always ask (laughs). No, look, I don't like to discuss the roster-building in public, because I think it's not correct. Also, it's not so good for us to go on the market and everybody knows what we are looking for. This could be a disadvantage. Jeremy (Mikula), look, you follow our team and I think that you could bet and you would probably know what we are looking for. Definitely someone more in our offense and someone more in our defense.”

On the possibility of buying down Ignacio Aliseda’s contract and bringing in another Designated Player...
“As far as I see it until now, there is no way to buy him down, which is also not our intention because I think we shouldn't discuss too much about Designated Player or not Designated Player. We should discuss about the whole roster, about the whole team, about the qualities that we have and we should not depend on one or two players. Obviously, every team has one or two or three outstanding players, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this must be a Designated Player.”

On the plan for developing the Homegrown players...
“Yeah, I completely agree, Paul (Tenorio). They need minutes, they need to play. If they cannot play here, we will have to find solutions. Could be loans or probably would be loans, we'll have to see it on an individual basis. I would really like to see them in the preseason, and we are confident that all of them have the potential to play. Obviously, it's not so easy to make them all play at the same time. But another thing that is clear to me is that our average age is still too high. We tried to work on that. But we will have part of the way to go there to get where we want to be."

On whether he expects more players to go on loans and whether any players are obtaining U.S. Green Cards...
“Okay, I’ll start with the second one because it's the easier one. We have currently seven players who are in the final stage of getting a Green Card, which gives us a certain flexibility regarding international slots. We have many players, I agree, but everybody knows that in soccer in a week, within a week, everything can look completely different. We might lose players within a week, we might sign another player within a week, everything is possible. So, this is not etched in stone, this is absolutely clear, our roster is never etched in stone. Nevertheless, we would like to have continuity. I think this is something that this Club really lacked and you can see it in other clubs who have continuity. I think almost every successful club this season in MLS has a certain continuity in roster, but also staff."

On building the team and learning the rules of MLS in a short amount of time after his official hiring on Dec. 20…
“I'll also start with the second part, learning of the MLS rules. They are extremely, extremely complicated for someone who comes from abroad, this I have to admit. We have, with Eddie Rock, someone who is our brain regarding this. So, it is way too complicated for me (initially). I'm learning, I'm learning every day, but we really need someone who full-time works on this and this is Eddie Rock, who I really appreciate what he's doing.”

“The other thing is, I told you a year ago, no excuses and, of course, everybody can see this was not so much time, but I think I'm not in a position that I should complain now. We had so many good things that we found here, starting with the owner who has been unbelievably supportive throughout the whole year and so I am not in a position that I should complain.”

On his evaluation of this season and Raphael Wicky’s first season with the team...
“We had a long discussion two days ago. I congratulated the coaching staff, the whole coaching staff, it's not only about Rapha, it's about the whole coaching staff. In my opinion, they did a great job. What we have to clearly improve is we have to convert our chances. We have to convert our performances into points. Many times, after the matches the coaches of the other teams came to Rapha and told him, ‘Hey, great team.’ But we had lost the game (laughs). This is not why we are doing this. We want to be a winning side and we have to work on our winning spirit. This is definitely clear.”

“I didn't have the impression that we were outplayed in many games. I think we had really quite good performances, but definitely there are some areas where we have to improve. One thing is very simple, that's set pieces. Another thing that comes to my mind is also something quite simple, but when you score, I think the next five to 10 minutes are crucial after you have scored yourself. And there you should not drop concentration, because otherwise you immediately concede goals. I don't have any figures yet ready, we are working on that, but I'm quite sure that we conceded many goals after having scored, immediately after having scored and we have to improve there. Roster-wise, we would like to have a bit more competition, ideally you have competition on almost every position and that's what we are working on.”

“Rapha will also try everything to collect more points next season. He knows the league better now. I think he knows what to expect next year better. Some things were out of his hands. The whole situation, which I already told in the beginning, I don't want to speak too long about the pandemic, but it had a huge impact, obviously, on all professional sports. And I think they dealt good with that, the coaches, it was extremely difficult for them. Because you know you trained, then you stopped, then you trained again. I think we had three preseasons in 10 months now, which is a bit too much.”

On letting CJ Sapong go to free agency and what he sees in new signing Chinonso Offor...
“CJ has not only a great personality, he's also a very good player, obviously. We told him weeks ago, we wanted to be honest, because he deserved also that we are honest, that we would not provide him with a new contract, not because of his performances, it's simply we have to see the whole picture and one thing that I mentioned before was we want to lower the average age, this is one thing that we absolutely want to do. And, the other thing is also we always have to bear in mind our financial possibilities within the salary budget. So, these are the main reasons why and it's got nothing to do with anything else. He will always have my full respect. He's such a great person, also to discuss other things than football or soccer (with).”

“The other question was Offor. Offor is a young striker. He's a tall striker, nevertheless, he has a certain speed. One thing that we need to give him is time because he comes from a small league. The Latvian league is a small league, but we consider him, and our scouting department considers him, a very interesting option because he also has, in a smaller league, statistics that are interesting for us. He speaks English, which is always an advantage when you come here and it helps a lot. English, and maybe in this league also Spanish can help, but English is better (clarification: meaning English is spoken by more teammates and coaches and therefore more helpful, not that it is literally better). That was Offor.”

On the decision to keep Elliot Collier...
“We see quite a lot of potential in Elliot. He can dribble, he can pass his opponent (speed-wise), he has a certain speed. He'll have to improve his statistics, that's clear. He's the first one to admit (that), he knows he will work hard to do this, he's a great guy and still has room to improve.”

On whether he learned something about the profile of players he wants to recruit and whether it has altered after a season with the team...
“I mainly got confirmation from what I thought and we have to focus even more (on that). I think you need players who are competitive physically. This is very important. This league is very demanding physically. Also, when you play Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, I think this is not so easy for someone who is physically not absolutely ready. This is one thing, and as in other leagues, too, speed is getting more and more important. And the third thing, and maybe we really lack a little bit, is winning spirit. I don't know how many players have won trophies in this squad. But I would assume not too many and maybe we have to find ways to implement this winning spirit. Also, a bit more, maybe, self-confidence also. I mean you cannot have a season without a road game win. This is impossible. And you cannot expect to be in a comfortable situation if you never win a game abroad (on the road).”

On the process of identifying a player like Chinonso Offor...
“Yeah, I mean we have an owner who is really willing to invest and invest in know-how also. So, during the season, we established a scouting department, which had not existed before and in the end our scouting department identified this player. We always speak with the coaching staff, with Rapha and his colleagues, about possible new signings before we sign a player, obviously because it doesn't make sense to sign a player that the head coach doesn't want to have on his squad. You will be punished in the end because he won't make him play. And they liked also very much his profile. So, it came from our scouting department.”

On whether the potential for a new MLS youth fund changes his approach to the offseason...
“It has not been confirmed yet, but obviously this helps a lot or it would help a lot. One thing that is important for me is this year or for the new season, we would like to have the new players, or maybe except for one, we would like to have them at the beginning of the preseason. This was also one of the problems that we had and this was not Rapha's mistake, it was more my mistake that we didn't have all the players in January. It was nearly impossible, yes, but nevertheless it caused some problems. I think when you've seen our matches, in the second half of the season we performed better than in the first half of the season. This is because it takes some time, when you have new players especially. Don't forget, when (Ignacio) Aliseda and (Gaston) Gimenez arrived, I think they trained two or three times with the team and afterwards were locked in their apartment for a couple of weeks (due to the pandemic). This is what happened to them. And again, no excuses, we have not reached our goals but it is something that we want to make sure that it doesn't happen again, that we cannot use the preseason for these reasons and so we really, really want to sign maybe two more players (before) January 1st.”

On the desire for continuity from a team that won five out of 23 games this season...
“That's a good question, Brian (Sandalow). No, look, I think, but this is my perspective, that we didn't end up being in the table where we belong with this team and we have to analyze the reasons why this is the case. But we really think that even against the best teams in this league we were quite good, obviously not good enough, but we don't think that we lack a lot to be competitive, even with the best teams in this league. This is why. But the question is brilliant, Brian.”

On his evaluation of players on other teams within the league and using trades to acquire players...
“I think one of the problems that I see in this league with all the regulations that you have is that it makes it very difficult to get the really interesting players to your team. It is complicated because obviously everybody wants to keep their good players. You know, in Europe we have a free market. When I want to sign a player from Bayern Munich, and I have the financial means, I can try to sign him. This is not so easy in this league here. So, we would love to have more players who have already made experience in this league, but it's not so easy to find, to get the ones that really help.”

On whether the last game of the season shows that the backline needs more continuity or different players...
“I think the last game is not a very good example, Patrick (McCraney), because in the last game we were clearly not ready and not ready meaning we were definitely not the better side. We deserved to lose this last game because we made too many mistakes. We were, in my opinion, I had the impression we were a bit tired in this last game. You know, we have in the back line, don't forget we have signed the Colombian Under-23 National Team player Carlos Teran, who, after two months, due also to this pandemic finally could come to Chicago and join us. But his last game had been in March, back in March, so it's not so easy to integrate a new player during the season. And a new player who has not been training for months and not been playing for months. So, we have definitely this player. I think our back line is better than what they showed in this last game against New York City. This was really not what they expect from themselves, what we expect from them. This was simply not good enough. But I think we should not take this last game and (use) as a benchmark.”

On whether the potential for a youth fund next season affects his planning...
“Basically, what we're looking for is young players, whether we have this fund, yes or no, we want to sign young players, because we want to lower the average age of this team. But young does not necessarily mean that the quality is good enough. (A team) only with young players, if they are not good, you won't win anything. Obviously, we have several solutions for all positions that we would like to cover, but that is nothing special, Paul. I think you can expect this from a professional sports team and from a front office, a scouting department, that we work on several options and in the end who we can sign could also depend on these funds, yes.”

On what it was like for him, on a personal level, to adapt to a new country, job and league during a global pandemic...
“Well, (similar to) all of you, (it was) definitely not easy. I think, again, I should not complain because I'm a very privileged person. We had so many people within the Club who supported us, who reached out to us and so I should really not complain. And I am certain age. I think that it was way more complicated for some of these really young players who came here and immediately they were in a very special situation. But I should not complain. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the whole year. I learned a lot, not only regarding regulations of MLS, but also, you know, this was new to all of us, all of the managers also within this league. What do you do when your players and coaches cannot do, when they are prevented from what they are used to (doing)? This means training, we could not train, and that was not so easy to solve, but again personally, I always felt very privileged. I still like this country, Brian (laughs).”

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