When the Chicago Fire brought on Peter Wilt as the first general manager to help spearhead the club’s launch in 1998, the task of developing a winning culture and marketing an expansion team – on paper – seemed daunting.
After winning MLS Cup and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the inaugural season – the club instantaneously became one of MLS' most successful on and off the field. The Fire reached two more MLS Cup finals and bagged two more Open Cup trophies in Wilt's tenure, which brought out the best in fan culture through the eyes of a man who was the perfect blend of soccer fan and soccer businessman.
Since Wilt’s departure in 2005, the organization has not employed a general manager since. That is, until Sunday’s sweeping alterations brought some sought-after change to the front office with the announcement that longtime MLS executive Nelson Rodríguez will assume the position.
[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]
After working with the league for upwards of 15 years and serving as caretaker president of now-defunct Chivas USA, Rodríguez currently operates as the managing director of national team advisory services with U.S. Soccer.
“He’s been in the league as long as I have, probably, so he has as much knowledge of the workings of the league and how a team operates as anybody,” interim head coach Brian Bliss said of the new general manager. “He is very professional, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very detail oriented and he’s committed, and that’s what you need; guys who are willing to roll up their sleeves, plus he’s got the knowledge.”
Under the watchful gaze of U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, Rodríguez provides budding young U.S. talent and their families with advice on the nuts and bolts of being a professional player. The newly devised role – created by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann – puts Rodríguez in charge of offering information on nutrition, media training and time management, and several other aspects for players at various stages in their careers.
Rodríguez, whose hiring was strictly owner Andrew Hautpman’s decision, according to Bliss, will be tasked with leading the search for a new head coach, and will oversee technical staff management, scouting, player personnel, player development systems and the Academy with the Fire. With a varied resume, Rodríguez doesn’t have a learning curve, will fill an immediate need for the club and could take a considerable load off of Bliss.
“I’ve known Nelson for 15, 18, 20 years probably and we have a lot of similar ideas about the game, about what a team looks and feels like and what a coaching role looks like,” Bliss added. “Hopefully, that serves him well and serves me well but we’ll cross that bridge later.
“There’s always room for guys to roll up their sleeves and work. Anybody that knows anything about our league and in general about American soccer, we all wear several hats, and we probably all work to a level where you wish there was an eighth day added to the week or a 13th month added to the calendar. However, last time I checked at the G8, they didn’t do that in the last summit. Receiving help and getting some workload taken off of not just me, but everybody, I’m sure is going to be welcome.”
Rodríguez will continue his duties with U.S. Soccer until he joins the Fire on Oct. 19. There is no scheduled media availability with him at this point, per a club spokesperson.