Fire

Results didn’t show Fire’s progress against Nelson Rodriguez’s “three-year plan”

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Results didn’t show Fire’s progress against Nelson Rodriguez’s “three-year plan”

Early on in his tenure as Chicago Fire general manager, Nelson Rodriguez said he thinks teams in Major League Soccer need a group of several core players to succeed in the league.

“We believe that in order to succeed for sustained periods of time at championship level within MLS you need seven-to-nine steady starters, year in and year out,” Rodriguez said in January.

As a result of that line and his continued stated belief in needing a key core group of players, every time local media is gathered with Rodriguez he is asked about that and where the team stands on that front. After all, Rodriguez also said, “Our hope would be that at the end of this season that we start to approach that number.”

So when Rodriguez hosted local media on Tuesday at Toyota Park, he was again asked about the core players and how he believes the team has progressed in that area.

“We have a core that we’ve built on,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s five, six solid players and then three or four others that could be in and out of that 11 if you want to just use that 11 as a guide. But if someone else comes along and presents an opportunity where we think we can improve that core, we will do so.”

Rodriguez wouldn’t bring up names that he believes are part of the core, but it’s believable to think Michael de Leeuw, David Accam, Johan Kappelhof and perhaps younger players like Matt Polster and Jonathan Campbell are somewhere in that mix. In the offseason Rodriguez said the Fire had four core players and mentioned Polster and Harry Shipp as two more he believed could become part of that group with continued development. Shipp was traded about a month after that comment while Polster made 24 starts this season and played for the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.

[RELATED: Disappointed in 2016, Rodriguez believes Fire have opportunity in offseason]

Results-wise, this season was not what Rodriguez had in mind in terms of progress. The Fire remained last in the league and earned just one more point than in 2015, but Rodriguez said that doesn’t change anything.

“It doesn’t alter our plans, it doesn’t alter our approach,” Rodriguez said. “But I know today that the first five games of next year are going to be under a magnifying glass for all of us. We’ll deal with that. This may be the only time that I have this job. I know for me I make sure I do it in the way that I think is best, in the way that I think leads us to building a championship program.”

For a fan base that has seen the club miss the playoffs now six of the past seven seasons, believing Rodriguez when he says the club has improved its core may not be so easy. With that in mind, Rodriguez wouldn’t evaluate his team based on what happened before he arrived, saying 2016 was “the start of a new process.”

“I respect that from the fans it’s a different continuum,” he said. “Last season was a continuation of something else, or two seasons ago if you will. This past season was the first season of a three-year plan.”

As Rodriguez and the Fire head into the second year of his so-called three-year plan, Rodriguez admitted that the lack of results this season makes progress harder to see.

“I would have liked to have seen more results, more positive results that would certainly give more validity to what we’re doing,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s at a time when Pauno and I are trying to push standards, trying to push players out of their comfort zone, trying to push elements of the organization forward out of its comfort zone. When the results don’t accompany you, you don’t have the legitimacy that you’d like to have. So in terms of assembling talent, in terms of instituting our methodology, I think we’re OK. In terms of results I think we’re clearly behind.”

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.