For the second time this season, Chicago Fire president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez hosted members of the media for an hour-plus long Q&A session regarding the state of the club.
Naturally, the latest drama surrounding fan relations with the club was the topic of several questions, but a number of other issues were covered as well. Here are some of the highlights.
Sector Latino ban and fan relations
This was the first time Rodriguez faced reporters after the club banned the supporters group Sector Latino and revoked all tickets in that section of Toyota Park, even those who were not members of Sector Latino. He stayed firm on the club’s decision, citing fan safety.
Section 8, the bigger Fire supporters group, has protested the Fire’s decision by not having organized support for any game since. In Saturday’s loss to Toronto, some fans gathered in Section 8’s area at the north end of the stadium, but it was in significantly smaller numbers.
“I accept that there are signs or fans who disagree with me, but I don’t lose any sleep over the decision that we made,” Rodriguez said. “We will never compromise fan safety and this is an issue of fan safety. We gave Sector Latino various opportunities to correct its behavior. It continued and our decision was made. We won’t change. We will always put fan safety first.”
When asked what the club can do to improve relations with some of the team’s most hardcore fans, Rodriguez again leaned on safety as the priority.
“Supporter groups by nature are given extended privileges that the, if I can use the term, the common fan doesn’t have,” he said. “But those are privileges, those are not rights. So we use as our baseline the fan code of conduct. Just being a supporter does not allow you to violate that fan code of conduct.”
Much of the fan perspective, specifically from Section 8, has been that the Fire punished everyone in that section as a group instead of seeking out the individuals. Rodriguez explained why that was done.
“The group and its leadership to the time I’ve been here has never voluntarily submitted those who were guilty of breaking the fan code of conduct,” Rodriguez said of SL. “In one particular incident, the number of participants in the incident was large. It was more than a few people, many of whom were trying to obscure their faces, many of whom were wearing a sweatshirt identifying them as members of Sector Latino. The leadership was given every opportunity to bring forth those who violated the code of conduct. They did not. That’s what led to the final warning. That’s what led to: if you can’t control your membership, if you can’t modify your behavior, if you can’t identify those few bad apples who are ruining it for all of you, you will leave us with no choice.
“And on the very next opportunity, there’s a violation of the code of conduct, there is no submission of the guilty party and everything was clear. So we made good-faith efforts, but in the end what I’ve said and will continue to say, we cannot allow a group to hide or allow to be hidden within them, those that endanger the safety of others.
“From our perspective, we gave multiple opportunities for the leadership to step up and they didn’t. The last thing I’ll say is we have reason to believe that members of the leadership engaged in violating the fan code of conduct.”
Potential attacking additions
The Fire have already added defender Nicolas Del Grecco, winger Raheem Edwards and traded Jon Bakero for Nico Hasler in the summer transfer window.
But the team may not be done yet.
“We currently have two standing offers made for two different players in Europe, one of whom is what we could classify and characterize as a No. 10,” Rodriguez said. “One way or the other, we expect resolution on those offers this week. I can’t lay odds at this point.”
He later clarified both are attacking players. Rodriguez didn’t give any details on whether either would be a designated player, but he later offered a hint by saying the team could move into the top two or three of MLS’ payroll if they close either or both of the deals.
Refreshing the brand
In an interview with Sports Business Daily, Fire COO John Urban said the club is looking to refresh its brand and identity in the offseason. Rodriguez was asked to elaborate.
“We’re just still in that process, and I think refresh is the word we like,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not an overhaul, it’s not a major change. It’s an iconic badge. There’s a lot of great history at the club, a lot of great work from people that came before John and I arrived, which we think should be honored. We will continue to honor that, but times change, there needs to be a little bit of an evolution and I think we need to hone in on what our voice is for today, and that’s what we’re working on.”
Improving training facilities
Rodriguez said he and owner Andrew Hauptman have been looking into improving training facilities since Rodriguez joined the club late in the 2015 season.
“One opportunity is making improvements here alongside the village and making it more expansive — adding fields, adding some other facilities here,” Rodriguez said. “We would look at other locations, if that’s possible, but we’ll work closely with the village on all of that and with Andrew on all of that.”
Rodriguez said they aren’t planning on building something, as he put it, like the Taj Mahal.
“It’s also important to recognize that we have all that we need and all that most players want,” he said. “Do we need more? I think we do. I think we’re at a stage where the club needs to grow in that regard and we’ll look to do that. It could be here, it could be elsewhere, but I think we’ll look to do that and we need to grow that.
“Let’s just start by adding another field, making some other small improvements and then we can grow from there.”