Bob Bradley was the Fire’s first coach; maybe he should be the next one, too. | Sun-Times
Whether it’s Bradley, Luchi Gonzalez or a well-regarded assistant, the next Fire coach should have MLS experience.
In theory, the chance to replace Raphael Wicky as coach of the Fire should be an attractive opportunity. The Fire play in one of North America’s biggest markets and are bankrolled by an owner with ambition and seemingly unlimited financial resources.
Yet, for a host of reasons, the Fire won’t have their pick of the litter as they try to find a new coach. For one, multiple other MLS teams need coaches. The Fire also have a poor roster that needs to be turned over again, likely precluding a chance to win big immediately.
One direction the Fire should lean is toward coaches with MLS experience. Sporting director Georg Heitz had none before joining the Fire, and Wicky’s consisted of playing in five games in 2008 with Chivas USA, a club that dissolved in 2014.
Heitz, however, was noncommittal about whether finding a coach with MLS experience is a priority.
“It could be a thing that is important for us but not necessarily because I think the game that we play is the same globally,” Heitz said. “Worldwide, it’s the same game that we play. And there are also other examples; Tata Martino, who was very successful (in Atlanta) without having MLS knowledge. But, it could be something that we want to have with the next coach.”
Indeed, it’s something the Fire should want to have. With that in mind, here’s where the Fire need to look for their next bench boss.
The optimal hire for a lot of reasons, Bradley is currently coaching Los Angeles FC but doesn’t have a contract for 2022. Bradley was the franchise’s first and most successful coach, leading the 1998 Fire to the MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup double plus the 2000 Open Cup.
History aside, no available coach knows the U.S. soccer and MLS landscapes as well as Bradley. He’s also a big name, and snagging Bradley would be an instant sign to beleaguered fans and the rest of the league that the Fire mean business.
If he reaches the open market, Bradley will be able to name his price. But that’s where Fire owner Joe Mansueto’s deep pockets come in. This is a perfect chance for the Fire to flex their financial muscle.
Though not a huge name like Bradley, there’s an argument Gonzalez is actually a better fit for the Fire. Fired in September by FC Dallas, Gonzalez previously directed that club’s world-renowned academy. Considering his own success coaching FC Dallas (playoff berths in 2019 and 2020) and the Fire’s emphasis on youth, Gonzalez could make a seamless transition to Chicago and help the club’s youngsters grow into first-team roles.
Gonzalez also might benefit from the Fire’s willingness to spend on players compared to FC Dallas.
If the Fire can’t snag Bradley or Gonzalez, perhaps they should try to hire an assistant from one of MLS’s better clubs. One example is the Philadelphia Union’s Pat Noonan, who is working under former Fire player Jim Curtin with a franchise that has slowly and surely built a contending team.
The risk with Noonan — or any other first-timer — is not knowing how he’d work as a head coach. Maybe for the right candidate, it’s a risk worth taking.