Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire signs new Designated Player
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Chicago captures Ligue 1 striker Beric from Saint-Etienne

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The latest Designated Player in Major League Soccer toasted his new deal with a spicy shot of local flavor.

The Chicago Fire rolled out veteran Ligue 1 forward Robert Beric this weekend, the Slovenian tossing back a shot of Jeppson’s Malort as a part of the team’s announcement.

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Beric, 28, comes with a solid resume, scoring 34 times in 104 matches for Saint-Etienne since 2015/16. He spent time with Maribor, Rapid Vienna, Anderlecht, Sturm Graz, Interblok, and Krsko prior to that.

He only has one goal this season in 777 minutes, still getting plenty of run in Ligue 1. Head coach Raphael Wicky will hope he’s found a force. From Chicago-Fire.com:

“Robert is hard-working, intelligent number nine who has the ability to score goals at a high rate. We are looking forward to welcoming him and his family to Chicago.”

The 24-times capped Slovenian has been with the national team as recently as October. He’ll be tasked with picking up the scoring in the place of Nemanja Nikolic. The departing forward scored 56 times in three seasons with the Fire, but just 12 last season.

Wicky leaves U.S. U-17 side for Chicago Fire job

Chicago Fire hire new coach Raphael Wicky
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The Chicago Fire have landed their new coach, and he has a decent pedigree.

Raphael Wicky will take the helm of the Illinois set, leaving the U.S. U-17 national team. He’s the second coach to leave the USYNT set-up for MLS this season.

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The former Basel manager, 42, played for Werder Bremen, Atletico Madrid, and Hamburg over a 15-year playing career that ended with a short stint with MLS side Chivas USA.

Wicky was most recently with the U.S. U-17 national team, where he led the side an impressive run to World Cup qualification. Unfortunately, that ended with a spectacular disappointment at the tournament proper in Brazil.

“I am honored and proud to be named the head coach of Chicago Fire FC,” said Wicky. “This is a position that comes with a lot of responsibility and I can promise the fans and everyone at the Club that I will work hard and give my all. During conversations with Joe Mansueto and Georg Heitz, I felt that we all shared a similar vision for the Club and how to move it forward. That was important to me. Chicago is a world-class sports city and this Club has a bright future, both on and off the field. I can’t wait to get started.”

The Fire have had an interesting offseason that included an eyebrow-raising rebrand and a return to Soldier Field.

Nemanja Nikolic is gone and Bastian Schweinsteiger has retired, with 25-year-old Real Madrid product Alvaro Medran a new addition to the squad.

What rumored Wicky departure could mean for U.S. Soccer

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On the recommendation of highly-rated soccer organization company Double Pass, U.S. Soccer created five new youth national team programs to address gaps between the Under-17s, Under-20s and Under-23s. With eight national team programs, it put U.S. Soccer in line with the rest of the world’s soccer powers as far as being on a level playing field for youth development.

And yet, if the rumors about Raphael Wicky are true, U.S. Soccer will have eight full-time youth coaching vacancies.

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With the Chicago Fire hiring Swiss national and former FC Basel sporting director Georg Heitz to the same role, there’s been talk that Wicky could follow Heitz back to MLS, and across town, after a short stint with U.S. Soccer. In one sense, Wicky’s departure wouldn’t be that surprising. In his first cycle as the head coach of the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, he led the U.S. to the final of the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, but his squad flamed out at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, getting bounced in the group stage. It could make sense that the former FC Basel manager would look forward to coaching adults again after working back with the youth players.

But if Wicky leaves, it would leave U.S. Soccer without a single full-time coach in their youth programs, which is a further gut punch to USMNT fans who see the USMNT program in an atmosphere of total negativity. Jason Kreis, who works full-time with Inter Miami CF in an undefined role in the technical department, is the U.S. Under-23 MNT coach. Steve Klein, an academy director for PA Classics, has been stepping in to be the Under-15 Boys National Team coach.

It’s all just incredibly sad for an organization that has slipped down, both in terms of on-field performance and administrative efforts since the summer of 2014. Say what you want about Sunil Gulati, but – even if it wasn’t his authority – he wouldn’t have let roles go unfilled for so long. Under current president Carlos Cordeiro, we’ve seen the U-19, U-16, and U-15 coaches stay open for vast amounts of time, while the long-time U.S. U-20 coach, Tab Ramos, left for his first MLS head coaching job.

Even worse, Dan Flynn, who let U.S. Soccer know for more than a year that he was going to leave the organization, finally stepped down in September of 2019. There still hasn’t been a replacement.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if having full-time coaches really matters in terms of USYNT youth development. Perhaps bringing in different voices can help players get a different perspective, and without the old U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla., the U.S. U-17s don’t necessarily need a steady head coach to constantly train the players.

But on the other hand, it’s the latest sign that dysfunction at the top of U.S. Soccer is making its way down, and it could certainly have harmful effects on U.S. youth development, or at least building chemistry with players who may end up suiting up for the USMNT one day.

It seems unlikely, but hopefully in the first few weeks of 2020, U.S. Soccer will be able to fill many, if not all of these vacancies, as well as work out the internal work environment problems they’re dealing with. Step No. 1? End the mandate to work in Chicago. That could start and help get more candidates excited for the job.

Report: Nashville acquires Dax McCarty, Dave Romney

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Nashville SC has added two more players with MLS experience ahead of its maiden voyage in the league, reports The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio.

The more notable name is Dax McCarty, the 32-year-old defensive midfielder whose game has been consistent as a mainstay for the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls since 2011.

Reba, Wynonna, Dax. Gingers and Nashville have a long history.

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McCarty has 407 appearances in 14 MLS seasons since debuting for FC Dallas at age 19, a steady passer and tackler who reads the game well.

He’ll cost Nashville about $100,000 in combined allocation money to go with a second round pick, and almost certainly be at the crux of the expansion side’s midfield.

Tenorio says Nashville has also traded for LA Galaxy defender Dave Romney, a 26-year-old with 104 appearances.

Romney has scored five goals and added five assists, and cost the new club $225,000.

Nikolic says goodbye to Chicago in latest signal of Fire rebuild

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Nemanja Nikolic’s time in Chicago has ended, judging by the Hungarian forward’s long-winded farewell letter to the Chicago Fire franchise and its fans.

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Nikolic was hugely productive in his three seasons in the Windy City, bagging 51 goals in 96 games regular-season games, winning the 2017 Golden Boot (24 goals in his debut season) and becoming the team’s second-leading goalscorer in the process.

When a period of time is intense, if you concentrate and perform on daily basis, time passes by quickly. It was a massive three years for me and my family. When I look at the memories I had in Chicago, I realize the huge amount of action that happened to me in the U.S. It was a big jump. We went far from home. A new language and a new environment. Different schools for the kids – and our third child has born. People were skeptical about the adventure, but the unknown challenge motivated me and, luckily, I proved quickly that my decision was right and I could keep the standards I had at Videoton and then at Legia.

…

And last but not least, the Fire supporters! The sport is for YOU. And YOU deserve the best. From day one, YOU have made me feel at home. Your friendship and support made this period special. YOU will always be a big part of my life. YOU are great. It was a pleasure playing for YOU and fighting for success. I wish YOU a bright and happy future!

Nikolic’s departure is a clear and obvious example of a team and a player’s respective timelines failing to match up with one another. Nikolic, who’s 31, has but a precious few seasons of productivity; meanwhile, the Fire, who are set to move to downtown Chicago next season and finished 10th and 8th in the Eastern Conference the last two seasons, desperately need to get younger and shed some sizable contracts β€” one of which is Nikolic’s $1.7 million base salary.