Sounder at Heart: The Fire have had one of the busiest off-seasons in the history of MLS. Moving stadiums, a rebrand, a new owner, new coach & FO staff, and new DPs. What’s your expectation for the season? What has you optimistic about the new Fire?
Hot Time In Old Town: For the first time ever, the Fire have an owner, Joe Mansueto, who’s aggressively working to help the club grow. He’s invested heavily in several areas of the club—from facilities upgrades to new staff. Even the marketing team has a bunch of new faces, toys. and a lot of money to be really creative. Mansueto truly seems to feel like the Fire can compete with the Seattles, Atlantas and Torontos of the league. It’ll take time, but the investment is there.
SAH: The move to Solider Field obviously has the potential to be exciting. Being back in the city is great for the team, but are there any challenges that you foresee?
HTIOT: Moving back to Soldier Field was the right call. For the vast majority of fans, it’s a lot easier to get to than the stadium in Bridgeview, which was sitting in the middle of an economically depressed suburb with no great public transportation options. Obviously if the team struggles, Soldier Field might be pretty empty, so that’s a concern. But, if you have Big Club ambitions, you need a Big Club stadium in a Big Club location, and the Chicago Lakefront provides that. One other concern: the natural grass surface at Soldier Field has a history of turning into garbage pretty early in the Bears season, so I’m worried come fall the Fire might be playing in mud with grid lines on it. Hopefully they get it worked out.
SAH: How has the team looked in preseason? What sort of formation and style should we expect from the team on Sunday?
HTIOT: It’s really tough to say. The Fire had a 3-2-1 record, and actually looked pretty strong against the Galaxy in Carson last weekend, even though that match ended in a draw. Raphael Wicky seems to be running a 4-3-3, and he’s been stressing compact defending, and working hard to immediately win back the ball after a turnover. But, the Fire are still without four new international signings, including two designated players—Ignacio Aliseda and Gaston Gimenez. So, we won’t truly know how good the Fire are until those guys get here and settle in. I’m just hoping the Fire are catching the Sounders with tired legs after Concacaf Champions League and they can finally escape Cascadia with a win.