Of the five MLS teams that made the playoffs in 2017 but did not return in 2018, only two teams suffered bigger drops in points than Chicago, and Fire president and general manager Nelson
Rodriguez took the blame for the poor season, his third full season in charge.
“The results on the field did not come, and that is disappointing for everyone,” Rodriguez said in a season-ending review with the local and national
media. “I am responsible. I didn’t do a good enough job. No one should blame ownership. We had all the resources we needed to succeed. It’s not the fault of the coaches or the staff.
This season has my fingerprints on it.”
In 2017, the Fire made the playoffs for the first time since 2012 when it went 16-11-7 and finished third in the Eastern Conference, but it
fell to 8-18-8 in 2018 -- a drop of 23 points. (Toronto FC, the 2017 champion, and San Jose earned 33 and 25 less points, respectively.)
The Fire was crippled by injuries earlier in the
2018 season. Indeed, they went into 2018 without Dutch playmaker Michael De Leeuw and 18-year-old midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, who both suffered serious knee injuries last fall. In the
2018 opener, Matt Polster -- who earned his first U.S. cap in January -- was also lost with a knee injury.
But after rebuilding the team with a series of shrewd moves between 2016
and 2017 -- the second year of the tandem of Veljko Paunovic as head coach and Rodriguez as GM -- the Fire was relatively inactive on the player market in 2018, a surprising turn of events
given how other teams in the Eastern Conference were using TAM infusions to upgrade their rosters and the Fire had injury issues.
The most notable signing was Serbian Aleksandar
Katai, who finished with 12 goals and five assists but only after a slow start (only two goals and one assist in his first 10 games). Early in the season, Paunovic gave plenty of opportunities to
four rookies out of college but by the end of the summer they hardly played.
Rodriguez blamed himself for not having more urgency in making player moves.
“I thought for
sure we would find the right players and get things done," he said. "You get no credit for not doing a bad deal, but it also doesn’t help when you don’t get enough good players. We made
attempts to bring in players. They didn’t come through for various reasons.”
But Rodriguez was concerned the Fire would be pushed into deals and stuck with players with bad
"There will be some who will see me as rigid," he said. I" prefer to see myself as disciplined. Yeah, we could have signed some players, but if they had bad contracts, I would
have avoided the difficult nature of these questions today. But I’d be answering them for two or three more years after the fact. Having said that, we have to improve the team. That does require
Rodriguez praised his coaching staff -- he expects Paunovic, who is out of contract, to be back in 2019 -- and players for not quitting or making excuses.
"Any shortcomings that anyone may see should realize that they are a result of my decisions," he said.