Chicago Fire head coach Raphaël Wicky is trying to build a winning culture for the men’s soccer club that has struggled to find success over the course of the last decade.
“The message to the players on the first day was I want a team of passion, and you have to run and fight,” Wicky said.
This process started when the team began its preseason training recently and will continue to build as the first-year head coach and his staff establish a rapport with the roster.
In their previous 10 seasons, the Fire only qualified for the Major League Soccer playoffs twice. The poor results of late are a stark contrast from the club’s early campaigns, where it reached the postseason in 11 of its first 12 years and won the MLS Cup in 1998.
“The playoffs are the goal of every single team,” said Wicky, a Swiss athlete who played and coached soccer in Europe. “That is our priority and main goal this season as well. Like I said before, we want to win. Everyone wants to win. We want to win every day in training, and we want to win our games.”
The struggles of the team during the past decade made it difficult for the club to connect with its supporters. The team ranked last in MLS average attendance during the 2019 season, and second worst in 2018.
In order to regain support, the coaches and players need to prove to fans how this new era of Fire soccer will be different.
“We have to create emotion[s] on our team and put emotion[s] on the field so that the fans come, the fans leave happy,” Wicky said.
Wicky said he enjoys playing a pressing style of soccer and maintaining possession of the ball, but noted it would be difficult to continuously compete with that kind of strategy given the difference in the game between the U.S. and Europe.
Clubs in the U.S. and Canada face different challenges compared to those in Europe, including longer travel times between cities or playing in high altitude locations such as Colorado or Utah. The thin air makes it more difficult to play at a fast pace.
With the recent move to host home games at Soldier Field rather than at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Fire made a step in reestablishing support throughout the city. The club played at the Chicago Bears’ home stadium for seven seasons during its initial success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While the club’s success on the pitch arguably plays the most critical role in attendance, a more centralized location in Chicago should make it easier for fans to attend games.
“We’re very excited to move back to the city,” Wicky said. “I think it’s a great stadium with a great tradition.”
In addition to the move, the players have made it clear they want to serve as a helpful resource for youth soccer throughout the Chicago area. Out of the 20 current players on the first team, nearly a third came through the clubs’ academy.
Chicago native and defender Andre Reynolds II is one of those graduates. He’s worked with CPS students who fight between the balance of going through school and trying to achieve the goal of playing soccer professionally.
“A lot of times, you lose hope when you don’t see anybody that’s in your same position make it,” Reynolds said. “So being able to be that model and be that person, I feel like it’s very important.”
As the initial training continues to progress, Wicky and his staff plan to build on the positive momentum that has fueled the club’s energy throughout the offseason.
“There is something going on in this club, and this is an exciting time for me to be the head coach,” Wicky said.
The Fire traveled to Tampa, Florida, over the weekend and continued their preseason training program. The club announced last Wednesday that tickets to the home opener against Atlanta United on March 21 are now on sale and can be purchased here.