Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman took in Thursday’s training session at Toyota Park before holding an impromptu Q&A session with media in attendance regarding the team’s start to the season and his thoughts on player acquisition.
On his reaction to the results in the first quarter of the season…
I’m hoping we turned a corner [in the Columbus game]. Certainly the second half was the type of soccer we know we’re capable and expecting to be playing. The first part of the season has been a disappointment, I don’t want to shy away from the truth but that’s been what it is. Obviously we’ve been hit by different injuries and different challenges but I think at the end of the day, I think the expectations are to perform at the level of the last three games rather than the one’s before that.
On the potential to sign players before the close of the current window on May 6…
I’m hoping that there will be signings before this window closes. That’s my hope and that’s what I’ve tasked the technical staff to shoot for. We also have to be realistic about what the options are out there and what are the kinds of players that are really going to have an impact? Thirdly, how do we do the appropriate work in order to increase our chances or likelihood that all that’s going to be the case.
At the end of the day in MLS there’s a challenge that all teams face that has to do with the indentifying and signing of players from elsewhere and all of the teams in MLS need to do a better job of taking the necessary steps to improve our hit rate. The Fire are no different in that respect.
The hope is the team will be able to identify and find those players that will have an impact and make a difference and be able to give our fans what we’re aiming for which is to win games, play the kind of soccer like we did against Columbus. We could have scored obviously a lot more goals in that second half and 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 partly because there’s a belief in the individuals that we have. Its either one of two things, you either have good results or you have absolute conviction in your opinion in what the squad is and what it ought to be and I think that’s where we stand.
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On how much he as an owner has to work with the league to improve your “hit rate” on successful player signings…
I think from a league perspective there’s only positives. I don’t see any negative whatsoever. I think it’s purely just about the work we need to do here. This is a relative game and what that means is there needs to be better due diligence and all the things that you’d suspect that would come in that process.
Getting to see multiple games in person, you need to sit down with the player, learn their personality, their values and seeing if their commitment matches with what we’re looking for in our squad. There are a million intangibles but I think doing a better job at trying to find what those are is a real challenge.
It’s not easy and I wouldn’t say we’ve been particularly good at it to date but we’re trying to take all of the steps necessary to do better. I think most clubs are trying to do the same and part of it is also the relationship building we’ve done around the world and the ability to tap into those relationships that are meaningful, deep and honest with the clubs that we’re communicating with all the time. That’s part of the exercise too.
It doesn’t lead to a here and now answer all the time. You’d hope for it to lead to results yearly and some ways it has but in other ways it hasn’t quite yet.
With the news that the club came close to signing Chilean striker Humberto Suazo recently, are there any other players of that level in your cross hairs?
I never like to set expectations that a player of that magnitude [is coming]. Like we’re bring a player like [Cuauhtemoc] Blanco. Of course we’d love to find a player like that who’s a perfect fit with what we want and also the squad and how they fit with the salary cap and all the challenges. It’d be premature for me to say specifically whether a player is going to deliver on the field as well as off the field.
Primarily I’ve charged the staff with finding players that are going to help first and foremost on the field and that’s been the focus and of course if you can find a player that can drive the commercial value and helps drive the passion for soccer in the community, even better.
In the end though, winning games is the primary goal.
You have a pretty strong family tie to Montreal. Are you heading to the game this weekend?
(Laughs) I’m not but I do have strong family connections up there. I think all of my Montreal family will definitely be rooting for the Fire this weekend. That’s one thing I can guarantee.
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On his reaction to the reports out of Poland relating to the Fire’s interest in midfielder Sebastian Mila…
My understanding was that it was all nonsense. I think there was some outreach. The club always gets outreach from players, agents and clubs all over the world. Of course some of that is just creating noise. I think in this situation that might have been the case.
The fact that I don’t have very much information about it shows that there wasn’t much there. One thing that I’d love to see here in Chicago is first to be able to bring a Polish player of quality here to town. That just makes perfect sense. I’d love to be able to do that.
In this particular case I don’t think there was much there. In many other cases you’ll see situations where folks were stirring the pot and creating buzz around their player. A year or so ago, Rio Ferdinand was coming here at one point but we never even spoke to him.
Sometimes you never know, sometimes a player will come up through the rumor mill and we’ll dive deep and do the work but I will say that the technical staff is hard at work examining options, looking at players all day and all night. All that would imply something is going to happen but I’d be lying if I was saying I was certain that we’d get there.
As I walked in today there were a couple players in particular that I know there was interest in but already today they’re off the list. There’s an owner of a club overseas who doesn’t want to part with a player or doesn’t want to part ways until the end of the season and at a minimum it pushes you to July.
I think the biggest challenge for us as a league is the way these windows work. The timing of the windows aren’t necessarily a benefit to us through the whole season in that it sometimes can create some havoc for all squads.
We want to make sure that whatever we’re doing is all about the benefit. That hasn’t always been the case in the past so one of the things I’ve asked for is for the guys to put together a game plan and go through the steps to minimize the repeating of past mistakes.