A week after naming Georg Heitz sporting director, the Chicago Fire have a new coach to work under him.
The Fire announced Raphael Wicky as the team’s head coach Friday. Wicky joins the Fire after most recently coaching the under-17 national team for U.S. Soccer. He also managed Swiss club FC Basel during the 2017-18 season.
“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,” Wicky said in a statement released by the club. “During conversations with [owner] 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.”
Wicky, 42, took over the U-17s in March and guided the team to World Cup qualification. They were second in the Concacaf U-17 Championship, losing to Mexico in extra time in the final. Once in the U-17 World Cup in Brazil, the team flamed out quickly.
The Americans lost the opener 4-1 to Senegal, but stayed alive until the final group game after a scoreless draw against Japan. The U.S. lost to The Netherlands 4-0 in the finale. The team’s -7 goal differential was second-worst in the tournament, ahead of only Solomon Islands.
Before that, Wicky was at FC Basel in Switzerland. He had been a youth coach there before taking over the first team for the 2017-18 season. Basel won eight straight league titles in Switzerland, but finished second in the table that year, 15 points behind winner Young Boys. Wicky did get Basel into the knockout round of the Champions League that season.
Wicky and Heitz were at FC Basel together from 2013-17. His other connection to the Fire is working in Chicago from his time in U.S. Soccer, which is based in Chicago.
“I know Raphael very well from our time together at FC Basel in Switzerland,” Heitz said in the 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.”
Heitz and Wicky will have to get work quickly on building the new team. The Fire have 17 players under contract with the start of the season barely more than two months away.
During Wicky’s playing career, he bounced around Europe, including stops in the Bundesliga and La Liga. He closed his career with a short stint with now-defunct MLS side Chivas USA in 2008. Wicky represented Switzerland at the 2006 World Cup and started all four matches.
Wicky holds a UEFA PRO License and is fluent in Spanish, English, French and German.
On paper, Wicky’s resume is similar to his predecessor, Veljko Paunovic, who failed to make the playoffs in three out of his four years coaching the Fire. Both are young, foreign coaches who came to the Fire with more youth coaching experience than first-team experience. Both finished their careers with a short stint in MLS.
Paunovic was more accomplished on the youth side, having won the U-20 World Cup with Serbia before joining the Fire for the 2016 season. Wicky comes with first-team experience from his one season with Basel. Wicky also has more experience coaching American players from his short stint with the U.S. U-17s.
Wicky represents just one significant change in a year full of them for the Fire. The team is in a new stadium, returning to Soldier Field, with a new sporting director, a new logo, an owner who has been in charge for less than a year — and now they have a new coach. They also have to put together the key pieces of a new team with no designated players under contract.