Hauptman: “We’re trying to take all of the steps necessary to do better.”
Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman was in town Thursday, on the eve of his club’s trip north to Montreal. Andrew was kind enough to hold a candid conversation with the media at training…
Chief of Soccer Operations Javier Leon joined Hauptman for business meetings at Toyota Park as well. He offers some thoughts on the current state of the squad later in this report.
Here’s the full transcript of what Hauptman and Leon had to share:
One quarter of the MLS season has nearly passed, and it’s been up and down for the Fire. Could the squad’s second-half play versus Columbus last week perhaps be a pivot point? What are your thoughts and reflections on the first quarter of the 2013 season?
“I’m hoping it’ll be a pivot point, and certainly, the second half was the kind of soccer that we’re capable of playing, that we’re expecting to be playing. As far as the first part of the season goes, clearly it’s been a disappointment. I don’t shy away from the truth. That’s been the way it is. Obviously, we’ve been hit by different injuries and different challenges, but I think at the end of the day, the expectations are to perform at the level we’ve done over the last three games as opposed to the games before that.”
Do you envision any signings during this transfer window, or do you think it’ll be more towards July?
“Well, I’m hoping there will be signings before this window closes [on May 6th]. That’s what I’ve tasked the technical staff to shoot for. But we also have to be realistic about the options out there and what are the kinds of players who are really going to have an impact. How do we do the appropriate work to increase our chances or the likelihood that all of that will be the case?
Look, at the end of the day, in MLS there’s challenges – that all MLS teams face – with the identifying and signing of players from elsewhere. All of the teams in MLS need to do a better job of taking the necessary steps of improving our ‘hit rate.’ The Fire is no different in that respect. But the hope is that the team will be able to identify and find those players that will have an impact, that will make a difference, that will give me and give our fans what we’re shooting for, what we’re aiming for – which is to win games and play the kind of soccer like we played versus Columbus.
It’s exciting. Obviously, we could’ve scored a lot more goals in that second half [against Columbus], but their ‘keeper had a fantastic game. We’re going to win games. We have a solid squad. It’s a good group, with good energy. There certainly hasn’t been too much panic; I think partly because there’s a belief in the individuals that we’ve got. But, either you have good results or you have absolute conviction in your opinion of what the squad is and what it ought to be. And I think that’s where we stand.”
You mentioned improving the “hit rate” [of landing quality foreign Designated Players]. It’s been publicized that the club went after Chupete Suazo [of CF Monterrey]. He’s a big star. To improve that hit rate, how much do you as an owner have to work with the league? At times does that help, or hinder the effort?
“I think that from a league perspective there’s only positives, honestly. I don’t see any negatives whatsoever. I think it’s purely just about the work that we need to do here. This is a relative game.
What that means is, at the end of the day, we need to…there needs to be more due diligence, better due diligence. There needs to be all of the things you’d expect would come with that process. You need to see multiple games in person. You need to be able to sit down with the player. You need to make sure his personality, his values, his commitment meshes with what we’re looking for in a squad. There are a million intangibles, obviously.
But I think doing a better job at identifying what those intangibles are, and minimizing the risk of error is a real challenge. It’s not easy. I wouldn’t say that we’ve been particularly good at it to date. But we’re trying to take all of the steps necessary to do better. And I think most clubs are trying to do the same.
Part of it is also the relationship building that we’ve done around the world, and the ability to tap into those relationships that are meaningful, that are deep, that are honest, with clubs [we know] that we’re communicating with all of the time. And it’s true, we are communicating with them constantly, and I think that’s part of the exercise too. But it’s not always a ‘here and now’ answer. It doesn’t lead to a ‘here and now’ answer all of the time. It’s a process. You hope for it to lead to results immediately, but in some ways, that hasn’t played out.”
Suazo was mentioned. Do you have anything in your crosshairs of that magnitude, that pay grade? Do you see a signing like that possible for the summer?
“I mean, look. I never like to set expectations that a player of that sort of magnitude, you know, like a [Cuauhtemoc] Blanco, like “we’re bringing in a Blanco,” that would just be…you know…of course we’d like to find a player like that, that’s a perfect fit with what we want, and also [we must consider] what the needs are for the squad, how it fits in with the salary cap, and all the challenges. But it would be premature for me to say, specifically, whether a player is going to, sort of, deliver off the field as much as on the field.
I think, primarily, I’ve charged the staff with finding players who are going to first and foremost help on the field. That’s been the focus. Of course, if you can find a player who adds commercial value and helps drive the passion for soccer across the community, even better. But I think winning games is the priority.”
On rumors of a deal to bring Polish international and Slask Wroclaw star midfielder Sebastian Mila to the Fire:
“My perspective is that, from what I understand, it was all nonsense. But, I think there was some outreach. Look, the club always gets outreach from players, from all over the world and also from agents all over the world, from clubs all over the world. And of course, some of it is just noise. I think in this case, that might’ve been the case. The fact that I don’t have very much information about it shows that maybe [there wasn’t much there].
But by the way, one thing I’d love to see here in Chicago, of course, is for us to be able to bring a Polish player of quality here to town. That just makes perfect sense. We’d love to be able to do that. Though in this particular case, I don’t think there was much there.
But it’s so funny, you know, because there is this process whereby – and it doesn’t necessarily hold true with this particular case – but in many other cases you’ll see situations where folks are stirring the pot elsewhere to create buzz around the player that they’re representing. But look, sometimes you never know, right? Sometimes a player will come up like that, through the rumor mill, and we’ll dive deep and do the work.
I will say that the technical staff is hard at work examining options and looking at players all day and all night. [The coaches are] watching games, cutting film, and meeting with the technical staff every single day reviewing possibilities. But, you know, all that would imply that something’s going to happen, but I’d be lying if I said I was certain that we’d get there [immediately].
You know, even as I walked in today, there were a couple players in particular that I know there’s been interest in, but already, today, two of them are, sort of, off the list. Sometimes it’s an owner of a club overseas who doesn’t want to part ways with the player, or doesn’t want to part ways until the end of the season, so at a minimum it pushes us to July.
I think the bigger challenge for us, as a league, is the way these windows work, and the timing of our windows, which are the same as the windows everywhere else in the world, but aren’t necessarily a benefit to us through the whole season. I think sometimes it can create a bit of havoc, for all squads.
So we want to be careful to make sure that all we’re doing is going to be a net benefit. And that hasn’t always been the case in the past. And so again, one of the things I really ask for is for the guys to put together a game plan and go through the steps that will at least minimize the likelihood of repeating past mistakes.”
On his family connections in Montreal:
“Lots of family connections up there. All of my Montreal family will definitely be rooting for the Fire this weekend. That’s the one thing I think I can guarantee (smiles).”
Last weekend’s game versus Columbus, as you told me, was a “Chicago Fire-like performance.” So is what happened, especially in the second half, what you envisioned would come to fruition with this squad?
“Listen, I think that the main thing is that, when I called it a ‘Chicago Fire type of win,’ is because that I felt it was a total team effort. You couldn’t single out one player of the eleven who wasn’t giving it 100%, and also from the guys who came in as subs. So that was really great.
The second thing is that there was good soccer. We played good soccer, especially in the second half, where I felt we displayed very good quality. And furthermore, we didn’t let up despite all of the chances that either we missed or that their goalie was able to stop. We didn’t get down on ourselves. That was really what I felt strongly about, the fact that we’ve been building.
Since the result against Chivas USA, I think the team has been progressively getting better. Sometimes adversity also helps you to find some interesting things. I think that Wells Thompson, for example, has been a great surprise – in terms of the fact that he was a midfielder. He’s really taken to the right full back position. I think he’s doing really well.”
Speaking of Wells, it was interesting to see him combine on the right with Patrick Nyarko. Patrick said after the Columbus game that he and Wells communicate well together. If Wells continues to work on his defensive acumen, it seems he and Nyarko could perhaps become a dangerous combination on the right.
“I completely agree. I think that the system that Frank is trying to put in place does require the left and right backs to push forward, so now I think there’s a nice combination between Gonzalo [Segares] and Joel Lindepere [on the left]. You saw Gonzalo getting on top, he had that shot their goalie stopped that obviously could have been a goal. And now on the other side you have Wells and Patrick, and I think that’s something really positive.”
And what about Pause and Larentowicz in the middle? It seemed at the beginning of the year that that’s not perhaps what was envisioned, but it seems to be working quite well.
“Yes. First of all, it was great to get our captain, Logan, back on the field. I think that made a big difference. You need to have leaders on the field. He’s our leader. I think the chemistry between the two of them has been great.”
Do you think that tactically, their pairing allows Larentowicz to play more to his strengths?
“Yes. It really does.”