One big hire down for the Chicago Fire, one more to go.
The Fire named Georg Heitz as the team’s new sporting director on Friday. The Swiss executive held the same position at FC Basel from 2012-2017. He will take over soccer operations from Nelson Rodriguez, who has been the team’s general manager since late 2015.
Rodriguez will retain his other title of team president. He has been in that role, overseeing the business operations of the club, since Jan. 2018. Given Rodriguez’s experience with the nuances of MLS salary cap rules and Heitz being a newcomer to the league and the country, it would be surprising to see Rodriguez completely step away from roster decisions and transactions. Seeing how this dynamic plays out between the two will play a big role in shaping the Fire’s near-future.
Heitz has a lot of work to do at his new position. The Fire don’t have a coach since Veljko Paunović was fired in November. On top of that, the Fire have only 17 players under contract and three of those are teenage homegrown players who won’t be expected to have big roles this season.
Between the coaching search and filling out much of the roster, Heitz has to get acclimated quickly. The Fire’s 2020 season starts on March 1. The team does not have any designated players under contract.
“In every position at our football club — both on and off the field — we want to have a world-class professional in each role,” owner Joe Mansueto said in a press release. “We know we have found that in Georg, who we are excited to welcome to the Fire family. Georg’s experience, inclusive of leading FC Basel to eight consecutive Swiss titles, will help us in our primary goal of winning championships.”
In his end-of-season media availability, Rodriguez spoke of adding the position that Heitz will fill. He said he wasn’t as available as he needed to be in certain situations due to his dual roles.
“To remedy that we’ve initiated a search to add an experienced individual to our staff whose focus will be the first team, the first team coaches and the build out of our support staff,” Rodriguez said on Oct. 14. “I’m confident we’ll find the right person and that person will provide us some much needed support. To me, it’s another logical step in our evolution as a club.”
The Fire believe Heitz is the right person. Now, he has to find a coach and build out much of a roster in less than three months, his first three months on the job.