Chicago Fire Sporting Director Georg Heitz hosted an end-of-season press conference with members of the local and national media on Friday, in which he addressed several topics from the Club’s 2020 campaign.
Before discussing things like the team's performance, recent roster moves, things to be improved upon for 2021, etc., Heitz began with a vow to work harder for Chicago as the Club prepares for 2021 and beyond.
“Obviously, we are still a bit disappointed because our goal was clear,” he said. “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.”
Following the announcement of his hiring as Sporting Director last December, Heitz quickly brought together an entirely new coaching staff -- helmed by fellow countryman Raphael Wicky -- then oversaw the addition of 18 new players to the Fire’s roster.
Although his first season in Chicago was marked by great change, he believes a bit of continuity is necessary going into his second.
“I think this is something that this club really lacked, and you can see it in other clubs who have continuity,” Heitz said. “I think almost every successful club this season in the MLS has a certain continuity in their roster (and) staff."
Ideally, that continuity will also come in the form of an uninterrupted 2021 regular season. On top of assembling a nearly brand new team, Heitz and his staff were also forced to navigate the league’s COVID-19 suspension in March and adapt to its ensuing health and safety protocols during the return to play in July and August.
2021 can't come soon enough.— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) November 13, 2020
With all things considered, Heitz praised the job done by Wicky and co. in their first season together. Still, he reasserted that improvement is needed if the Fire are to make it to the postseason and beyond in year two.
“In my opinion, they did a great job,” he said. “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.”
“Rapha will also try everything to collect more points next season,” he added. “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…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.”
While the postseason eluded his group in year one, Heitz can hang his hat on the youth movement he’s helped begin in Chicago. Fourteen players on the Fire roster are currently aged 23 or younger, 10 of which were signed by Heitz and his staff this year.
Alongside some of his higher-profile 2020 acquisitions like forward Robert Berić and midfielder Gastón Giménez, Heitz believes in the group’s potential after the challenges they faced this season.
“We think that we laid the foundation, and we would really like to keep most of the players that we have this season,” he added. ‘Of course, we will also try to strengthen the squad, the roster, by signing maybe two, three more players.”
The first of those players was forward Chinonso Offor, who was announced by the Club just hours prior to Heitz’s press conference. He spoke about what he believes the 20-year-old Nigerian forward can bring to the squad.
“Offor is a young striker, he's a tall striker, nevertheless, he has a certain speed,” he said. “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.”
Offor became the Fire’s 10th international player on the roster as it stands, a total above the league’s maximum of eight. However, Heitz made it known that the Fire have seven players currently in the final stage of getting a U.S. Green Card. If successful, those players will then qualify as domestic, and will give Heitz greater flexibility to continue adding players as the team begins its preparations for the 2021 regular season.
As for who those further additions might be, Heitz was coy.
“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.”