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Out of playoffs, Chicago Fire enter offseason full of questions under a new owner

The Fire leave their home stadium for a new one, and Bastian Schweinsteiger might not return.

Sep 29, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; The starting eleven for the Chicago Fire pose for a photograph before the game against Toronto at SeatGeek Stadium. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Fire’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC on Sunday was a significant game, even if the result ended up not making a difference for the Fire.

With the New England Revolution beating New York City FC 2-0, even a win wouldn’t have kept the Fire alive. That meant the Fire were eliminated from playoff contention in the final home game at SeatGeek Stadium.

In saying goodbye to SeatGeek Stadium there is a small asterisk — there’s a chance the Fire could end up there again someday if, for instance, the Fire don’t want to play a home U.S. Open Cup match in a 65,000-capacity stadium.

But after 14 seasons in Bridgeview, Sunday marked the end of an era for the Fire — and there are plenty of questions about how the team will head into the next one.

A microcosm of the season

The Fire went on a solid run just to get back into the playoff contention. Sunday’s draw pushed the Fire’s record to 4-2-3 in the past nine matches, but the team needed wins instead of draws in the last two matches to stay alive.

Ultimately, asking this team to go on a sustained win streak was too much to ask. The Fire now have one win in the past five matches.

“I think the story of the game is the story of our season,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “A lot of opportunities go by the wayside there and we can’t quite close it out. Disappointing for sure.”

The Fire were far from dominant against TFC, but did put seven shots on target and failed to convert on quality chances on multiple occasions.

Bastian Schweinsteiger echoed McCarty’s sentiment about missed opportunities when asked if he was surprised this team couldn’t make the playoffs. 

“I don’t like the word ‘surprise’ because some things are obvious,” Schweinsteiger said. “It’s just disappointing that we couldn’t change this habit throughout the season. I’m sure everyone gave his best, but the question is always how good is the best.”

The Bridgeview finale

Playoff prospects aside, it was a significant day in team history. A crowd of 17,784, the second biggest of the season, was there hoping see the Fire leave the stadium with a win.

“It’s a little bittersweet for sure,” McCarty said. “I have to mention the fans, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give a shout out to SeatGeek Stadium. I think it’s been a wonderful host and a wonderful home for the Chicago Fire for a number of years.”

McCarty said the fans were “unbelievable” considering the NFL’s Chicago Bears had a home game at the same time.

“The weather was awful and they came out and it was probably the loudest I’ve heard the stadium all year,” he said. “The fans wanted to send SeatGeek out on the right note and they did their jobs. Unfortunately the players, we just came up a little bit short.”

Veljko Paunović has been the team’s coach for four years and was asked if he had any favorite memories of the stadium.

“I think I have to reflect on this four years definitely to give you one good answer,” Paunović said. “But now that I’m talking about it, I think the game we played against Seattle, for me, in 2017, was a big game and an amazing win, when I felt that the crowd and the team kind of merged together and started to build a very good season.”

In that game, the Fire beat the defending champion Sounders 4-1 in front of a sold out crowd. It was a statement win on national TV and signaled the Fire were a good team. The Fire finished with the third best record in MLS that season.

What’s next?

The Fire close the season at Orlando City SC and could drop to 11th in the Eastern Conference depending on other results, but that’s not really what matters at this point. There are plenty of questions entering the first offseason under new owner Joe Mansueto.

“I think, first of all, that the city of Chicago has a huge potential,” Schweinsteiger said. “I think it’s great that Joe got in that position as well. He wants to change, for sure, some things and of course at Soldier Field, we’re going to there next season. But you need to improve and for sure, not everything was ideal. I think that Joe is very smart and he will for sure make the right decisions.”

It’s anyone’s guess what those decisions will be.

Paunović has missed the playoffs in three of his four years. General manager/club president Nelson Rodriguez has been there for the same four-year period. Will Mansueto opt to bring them back or bring in his own hires?

Paunović thinks the team’s late-season progress is something that can be built upon.

“I think in the future this team can keep growing,” Paunović said. “I think we will have one more year under our belt.

“We figured it out in the last two months.”

Schweinsteiger, who is out of contract at the end of the year, said he hasn’t made up his mind on a return yet.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I will see how it will be. In the next weeks I will probably decide.”

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