Joe Mansueto wants Georg Heitz to stay with Fire, who beat Sounders 1-0

By Brian Sandalow

For the Sun-Times

Fire sporting director Georg Heitz’s contract is up at the end of the season, and owner Joe Mansueto isn’t itching to make a change atop the soccer side of the club.

During an interview Friday with the Sun-Times, Mansueto said he’s just starting to talk to Heitz about his future but would like the Fire executive to stay next year.

“I’m a fan of Georg’s,” Mansueto said a day before the Fire beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0. “I get along very well with him. He’s a very strong soccer mind, very knowledgeable about the game, a smart guy, experienced. I think really talented at discovering young talent. You look at Jhon Duran… or it’s any of the signings. [Rafael] Czichos, Federico Navarro, bringing on Chris Mueller [and] Jairo Torres.”

Duran missed Saturday due to a left ankle issue and was unable to build off his two-goal breakthrough Wednesday against Toronto. Facing the Sounders, who in May became the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League, the Fire took a 1-0 lead in the 23rd when Czichos’ header off a Navarro pass beat Seattle goalie Stefan Cleveland.

Despite playing the last 53-plus minutes without Gaston Gimenez after he left in the 37th minute with an injury, the Fire held off the Sounders. Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina recorded his ninth shutout, and perhaps his biggest save came when he turned away Jordan Morris in the 88th minute.

With the win against a franchise seen as the league’s standard bearer, the Fire finished a three-game homestand with six points and kept their playoff chances alive. Yet considering the money Heitz has spent on Xherdan Shaqiri and others to build the roster, the Fire should probably be in a better position.

According to data released in May by the MLS Players Association, the Fire own the fifth-highest payroll in the league but aren’t near that level in the standings. Mansueto sees the disparity but hasn’t given up on this group.

“Certainly, our standing in the table doesn’t reflect the size of the payroll, but I would point out the season’s not over,” Mansueto said. “Let’s let the season play out. We still have [13] games left, so there’s still a lot of the season to go. The story’s not over yet for this year. I’m still optimistic we’ll make the playoffs.”

Rallying to make the playoffs for the first time under his ownership and Heitz’s management would represent a reward for the Fire opening the checkbook.

“Over time, [payroll and results] should line up, that there’s a world market for soccer talent and if you want to get players of a certain caliber they cost a certain amount of money,” Mansueto said. “I guess it also shows our ambitions. We want to have a top soccer club here in Chicago, so we’re willing to invest. At the same time, we need to get the most for our money, and so there may be little blips where that doesn’t line up perfectly when you line them up on a graph, but over time it should.”

If the Fire get closer to making those two line up, they can still make something of 2022 despite a 10-game winless streak that effectively canceled out their strong start. Mansueto bemoaned some of the preventable errors that created that skid, but sees “a lot of good” in this team and is a big fan of coach Ezra Hendrickson.

“I admit much of the season has been frustrating,” Mansueto said. “I don’t think anyone is happy with our standing in the table, but I feel like we’re starting to hit our stride.”

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