Sports director Georg Heitz hopes for Fire’s return

Brand owner Joe Mansueto wants sporting director Georg Heitz to return next season.

Heitz would like that too.

“When it comes to my future, you see, this club is really close to my heart,” said Heitz on Wednesday. “I think I can say this: I absolutely love this job and I have a really, really great relationship with our owner. I will not have any public conversations now. I think you can understand. But yes, I would love to go back and I’m sure we’ll find a way to get there.”

Under Heitz, whose contract expires at the end of the season, the Fire missed the 2020 and 2021 playoffs and will need to rally for the postseason this year. He’s had his share of goals, notably winger Chris Mueller, defender Rafael Czichos, midfielder Federico Navarro and former goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. However, as the record shows, Heitz’s mistakes have been costly, including one against striker Kacper Przybylko last season and the hasty, failed choice of former coach Raphael Wicky.

Heitz’s record of designated players, the most important acquisitions for an MLS team, is also poor. Striker Robert Beric underpinned a strong 2020 by getting caught in a season-long funk in 2021 and being sacked. Winger Ignacio Aliseda was transferred to Swiss partner club FC Lugano in a bid to remove him from the fire service payroll and open a designated player’s spot.

The current line-up of designated players has also been a godsend, especially considering the amount of money that has been spent on attacker Xherdan Shaqiri and midfielder Gaston Gimenez.

“Yes, it’s the eternal salary discussion,” says Heitz. “Salaries, you pay a salary because a player has a certain market value. You may be paying a salary because the player already had a certain salary. You pay a salary to attract a player to your club. So I don’t think you can measure that directly.”

When healthy, Shaqiri was effective mid-Fire’s attack, although his availability was an issue. Gimenez, who was acquired in the same off-season as Beric and Aliseda, has been brought back on a new contract despite an underwhelming 2021 and remains divided on whether his role deep in midfield is worth the money. The third designated player, winger Jairo Torres, was already injured when he joined Fire from Mexican club Atlas and has been generally anonymous when he has played.

When asked about his three designated players, Heitz sounded pleased with their performance.

“Pretty happy with all three,” said Heitz. “Everybody can do better as every player can always do better but pretty happy with them.”

Heitz wouldn’t say if he was happy with his own performance, but did praise coach Ezra Hendrickson. He said the first-year coach changed the mentality of fire and brought a winning spirit, and commended Hendrickson for staying calm throughout the team’s 10-game winning streak.

“He’s very clear in his instructions,” Heitz said. “He is creative when it comes to his speeches in front of the players. I think he gives players a lot of confidence and every player should know what to do.

“For all of us – and I’m the first to improve – we all have to try to improve every day.”

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