The Chicago Fire aren't just switching things up, the team is undergoing a full-blown makeover.
In an unusually busy offseason for Major League Soccer — with teams in Nashville and Miami preparing for inaugural seasons, expansion into St. Louis, Sacramento and Charlotte, and collective bargaining talks underway — the Fire are in the midst of a seismic shift.
There’s a new owner, a new logo, a move back into the Windy City, a roster overhaul and now, a new head coach.
The team announced Friday that Raphael Wicky will be the ninth full-time head coach in club history. Wicky spent 27 years as a player and coach in Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S. and most recently coach the U.S. U-17 Men's National Team, which qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“I am honored and proud to be named the head coach of Chicago Fire FC,” Wicky said in a statement. “This is a position that comes with a lot of responsibility and I can promise the fans and everyone at the Club that I will work hard and give my all. During conversations with Joe Mansueto and Georg Heitz, I felt that we all shared a similar vision for the Club and how to move it forward. That was important to me. Chicago is a world-class sports city and this Club has a bright future, both on and off the field. I can’t wait to get started.”
Owner Joe Mansueto has three goals for the Fire, which joined MLS in 1998: Win championships, build a world-class organization and connect with the community.
“It's a super exciting time to be part of the Fire, because it's somewhat of a clean slate,” Mansueto said. “We get to kind of rebuild the club.”
The Fire finished outside of the playoffs this season in eighth in the Eastern Conference. The team has not been to the postseason since 2017.
“I know Raphael very well from our time together at FC Basel in Switzerland,” Chicago Fire FC Sporting Director Georg Heitz said in a statement. “He is a man of high character who fits the philosophy and vision of this Club. He has a fresh, modern approach to football. Raphael has a great appreciation and respect for the sport and because of his time on the pitch, including representing his country at a World Cup, he is able to communicate extremely well with players. Raphael, who is familiar with Chicago, has always wanted to coach in MLS. Since he arrived in the U.S. and played here, he has become a student, learning about and studying MLS and what it takes to be successful in this League. We’re thrilled that he will be our new head coach.”
Mansueto, founder of the financial services company Morningstar Inc., took over the Fire in mid-September after longtime owner and chairman Andrew Hauptman sold him controlling interest in the team.
At the same time, the Fire announced plans to leave SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeport, Illinois, and return to Soldier Field, where the team played from 1997 to 2006. That deal was made official in early October.
After some significant turnover, Chicago's roster stands at 17, fewer than the league's 18-player game day squad.
Bastian Schweinsteiger retired at the end of the season after three years with the Fire. It marked the end of an 18-year professional career for Schweinsteiger, who also played for Manchester United and Bayern Munich, and won a World Cup title with Germany.
Not long afterward, forward Nemanja Nikolic also announced he was leaving the team. Nikolic spent three seasons in Chicago and won the league's Golden Boot award in 2017 with 24 goals.
The team traded away veteran midfielder Dax McCarty to expansion Nashville for allocation money, after three seasons with the Fire.
But perhaps the biggest change came at the top. The Fire dismissed coach Veljko Paunovic and his staff. Paunovic went 41-58-37 over four seasons with the team.
Additionally, Nelson Rodriguez is shifting to the business side of the organization, so the Fire are looking for a new GM.
All this with less than 100 days until the start of the regular season.
"We don't have much time. We got to get going. So I think the sooner the better. So we're in the midst of that now," Mansueto said. "We are pushing it ahead as fast as we can on this. So the sooner the better, is the timetable."
The Fire also rebranded the club in a sweeping way — with new colors and a new logo. The team even changed its name from “Chicago Fire Soccer Club” to "Chicago Fire Football Club." Gold was introduced, along with blue and red.
A new crest is meant to symbolize both a crown and Chicago rising from the ashes of the great fire. The intentions were good: Chicago's badge had sometimes confusing similarities to the one used by the Chicago Fire Department.
But the rebrand did not go over well. Critics jumped on the color scheme as being too close to Real Salt Lake's. There were also concerns that the yellow crown could be associated with the Latin Kings, a violent Chicago gang.
Mansueto acknowledged the rough launch but urged patience.
“I think among the longer-term fans, we did see that negative reaction. The newer fans, less so. But having worked with logos and new logos, for a long time, it takes a while to judge a new logo. You need to see it used repeatedly. You need to see it get used in context,” he said.
Asked if his management style was always so, well, zealous, Mansueto said it's his entrepreneurial spirit.
“So, I see something that needs to be done, I'm like, `Let's get started and get it done.' Chop wood, carry water, just get it done,” he said. "I think that, yeah, that is my style. I don't like to be indecisive. I don't like to let things linger, but I like to take action once a decision is made."