Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has been quotable since he took over the role in October.
That's why when he hosted media in person at Toyota Park and over the phone via conference call on Friday it was an event worth following for fans of the club.
Friday's event didn't come at a good juncture for the club. The Fire are in the middle of a three-match losing streak and are dead last in Major League Soccer with one win in 10 matches.
Before taking questions for what was just over an hour, Rodriguez opened with a statement that was nearly 10 minutes long and touched on the recent struggles.
“I think it would be disingenuous for me to begin today in any other place other than acknowledging our record," Rodriguez said. " The results are obviously not as we expected. Simply, it’s not good enough, yet. For me, that’s the key word (yet).
"Winning and losing is the ultimate measure of sports, but it’s not the only way to gauge progress. It’s my job to see beyond the results, to see beyond wins and losses, to ensure that the foundation that we are building and the process that we are following is on track. And I can’t stress that enough because sometimes you can be on a winning streak and believe that everything is fine when it really isn’t, when the foundation is actually faulty. I need to ensure that we’re disciplined in our approach. I didn’t expect to be here, although we knew that there would be a point in time during the course of the year where results would not go our way. It’s one of the things I spoke to (coach Veljko Paunovic) about before the season even started, that how we handle those moments are going to be the real indicators of the type of team that we will become."
In addition to addressing the poor start, Rodriguez expanded upon what the team has done well in addition to what it hasn't.
"I believe we are learning how to compete on a daily basis," Rodriguez said. "We have not made other teams suffer during the course of games, but we have not been an easy out. There’s only been 22 minutes the entire season that we’ve been down by two goals... so that also tells me that we’re right there. We need to learn how to make a play."
Fans who have suffered through just one playoff appearance and no playoff victories in the past six seasons likely don't want to hear things about the team being close. Rodriguez acknowledged that, but did not shy away from the fact that he is balancing winning now while trying to build the team in a longer-term view.
“We owe our fans and we owe ourselves to try to win now," Rodriguez said. "We define competitiveness as relentless in the pursuit of victory, at all times, but not at all costs. So that balance is my job. It’s not Pauno’s job. Pauno’s job is three points on Saturday. He’s very clear about that and he understands that. It’s my job to ensure that what we build is sustainable and that’s the part of the future that I try to keep in mind. It's not to construct something for a fleeting moment of success."
One of the moves that Rodriguez said will help in both of those areas is the recent signing of Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw. de Leeuw is 29 and scored 56 goals in the past five seasons in the Dutch Eredivisie. That makes him both young enough to be in his prime for at least three more years and accomplished enough to, at least on paper, step in right away and be a key contributor.
de Leeuw has already signed his contract and Rodriguez said they've already begun the visa process, which delayed the debuts of John Goossens and Khaly Thiam this season. He is expected to join the Fire in early June for training and can debut after the MLS' second transfer window opens on July 4.
With de Leeuw coming and Thiam having just joined the team, Rodriguez expects to be quiet in the summer window. Instead, he said the club is already formulating a plan for next January. One of Rodriguez's stated goals has been to improve the team's scouting. He said that is still in progress, but they are using the extra time to plan for January and be properly prepared.
“First it’s with identifying targets," Rodriguez said. "Who are the players that we see or that are recommended to us that as players seem to suggest the characteristics that we’re looking for. Once we have that list, now it’s about going and seeing them in their environment... That’s the type of work that we’re trying to do so that when the leagues around the world resume in August and September, we’re in their backyard studying the players as players and learning them as people first hand.”
Despite already looking past this season in his plan for the club, Rodriguez said his goals for this season have not changed, even as a playoff spot seems to be falling out of reach early in the season.
“My expectations remain the same," he said. "My expectations are that when we hit October, we are competing for a playoff spot. That we are playing meaningful games in October."