When new owner Joe Mansueto completed the purchase of the Chicago Fire in September, major changes were already in the works regarding everything from the team’s home venue to potentially a new logo.
What didn’t seem to be a planned change, at least initially, was the team’s technical staff. Head coach Veljko Paunovic and president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez looked to be safe in their roles, but that appears to be ready to change.
The Fire are parting ways with Paunovic, announcing the news on Wednesday.
The move isn’t a big shock given the team’s poor results during Paunovic’s four-year tenure. The Fire made the playoffs in just one of those seasons, and during that time the team has posted one of the worst overall records in MLS.
Rodriguez acknowledged that poor track record in a recent roundtable with media at the end of the season, confirming at the time that the team would be hiring someone to help with the technical side of things, in a potential sporting director or general manager role.
“One thing is clear, we cannot continue doing the same things in the same way and expect a different result,” Rodriguez told reporters in October. “So I’ll be having conversations with Pauno this week, and the staff. I have some things in mind that need to change and have to change and will get better. If not, then we’ll be changed.”
Paunovic arrived in Chicago as a high-profile hire, having just led Serbia to an Under-20 World Cup title. The former Atletico Madrid striker was seen then as a top coaching prospect when he arrived in MLS, and looked like he might realize that potential when the Fire enjoyed a strong 2017 season, but the team faded toward the end of that season, then proceeded to endure two terrible seasons in the subsequent years.
Paunovic has developed a reputation as a difficult coach to play for, and a reason why the Fire have become a team that cycles through players, and has struggled to form a steady nucleus of players.
The Fire head into an important offseason, with Bastian Schweinsteiger retiring and the team having plenty of salary cap space to shake up a weak roster. Whoever is hired to step in and run the technical side of things will have room to bolster the roster, along with the financial resources expected to be made available by the Fire’s new ownership.