The Fire will miss the playoffs again with Heitz as sporting director and likely need another rebuild to compete after most of his moves haven’t panned out.
Once again, the Fire need a rebuild. That’s not a question.
The better question: should sporting director Georg Heitz execute that rebuild?
With eight games left, the Fire are playing out the string of another lost season. They will be out of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, including twice in a row under Heitz’s stewardship.
Heitz’s moves during his first two offseasons in charge of the Fire generally haven’t worked out. During the winter of 2019-20, Heitz missed on all three designated players he signed (more on that below) and hired coach Raphael Wicky.
While Heitz — then an MLS neophyte — wasn’t given enough time that offseason after owner Joe Mansueto took much too long to bring him aboard, that wasn’t a problem last winter. But instead of proactively trying to reverse some mistakes and upgrade the roster, Heitz preached continuity and added three youngsters (Jhon Espinoza, Stanislav Ivanov, Chinonso Offor) but got rid of proven performers CJ Sapong and Djordje Mihailovic, whose contributions weren’t replaced.
Heitz did get his continuity, but not the kind he was hoping for. Over last year’s pandemic-shortened 23-game season, the Fire had 23 points. Through their first 23 games this year, the Fire again had 23 points.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of Heitz’s work came last weekend. Mihailovic’s deft pass set up CF Montreal’s first goal in Sunday’s 2-0 Fire loss, while designated players Gaston Gimenez and Ignacio Aliseda did not travel because of a violation of team rules, establishing a new low during another failed season.
“Of course, from our DPs, especially from our DPs, we expect more,” Wicky said. “But that would have been the same if it would have been a player that was not a DP. It doesn’t really matter. We expect people not to do that.”
Under Heitz, the Fire haven’t gotten nearly enough from their designated players, and that was true before the disciplinary issues.
Robert Beric ($2,703,164) and Gimenez ($2,358,667) both have 2022 contract options that should be easy to decline, with neither coming close to living up to their salaries. Aliseda ($821,501) hasn’t stayed healthy and is under contract through 2023, but the Fire should explore ways to move on from him, too.
This offseason, the Fire again could have flexibility. Though it would hurt to see him move back to Spain, a departure of Alvaro Medran ($1,055,000) would open up cash. Captain Francisco Calvo ($902,600) also has a club option, and parting company with him would free up more money.
The problem is whether Heitz can be trusted with potentially three vacant designated player slots and plenty of cap space. His first crack at building an MLS team — albeit under a time crunch — was an unqualified miss. If Mansueto gives him a second chance with more time to breathe, Heitz will have to learn from his mistakes.
If Heitz doesn’t, the Fire will be in for more continuity. But not the kind they want.