The Chicago Fire picked up a win in the final home game of 2016, but the result seemed secondary to what lies ahead this offseason.
The Fire were officially out of contention with four games remaining in the regular season and Sunday was the third of those four games. The elephant in the room was that a number of the players may have played their last games at Toyota Park as members of the Fire.
After general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the team isn’t set in any position given the results of this season, it’s safe to think there will be a number of changes heading into 2017. The thing is, it’s not yet clear what those changes will be.
That will play out over the next few months, beginning with the front office’s decisions to pick up or decline the club options that apply to most of the current roster.
“We look forward to improve and get better for next season,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We have to finish the season on a positive side and then during the offseason we can continue building and working with the guys on their individual plans and everything else that we have to do before they go for vacation. Then when they come back they have to come back better than they went home.”
After years of rebuilding, it’s a familiar story for the Fire. This past offseason was the biggest change the club had seen in a few years. Rodriguez came in as general manager, brought in Paunovic as coach, made sweeping changes to the Academy and had other changes behind the scenes as well.
Some continuity could help, but it’s hard to justify keeping the status quo with the Fire currently in last place in the league.
“I think things are coming together still,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “It’s been a long year. I think with a lot of turnover from the beginning of the season, I know it’s 33 games into it now, but having too much turnover every year is tough just in general. I think if we can get a core group of guys and keep this team for next year and build off that, I think you’re going to see a little bit different (team). I think a little more chemistry as a team will help us.”
This is what Rodriguez and Paunovic face this offseason. Either stick with the core of a team that is last in the standings or endure another rebuilding offseason that requires the beginning portion of the season to be used on forming some chemistry.