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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Brian Sandalow

How the Fire can make 2023 a successful year

Developing Brian Gutierrez should be one of the Fire’s top priorities in 2023. (AP Photos)

There’s more to a team than winning games and signing big-name players. While those are obviously priorities for the Fire in 2023, here are three additional New Year’s resolutions for the franchise.

Develop Brian Gutierrez

Gutierrez will turn 20 on June 17, and 2023 could be a breakthrough year for the Berwyn native. Other than Xherdan Shaqiri, Gutierrez is the Fire’s most technically gifted player and took strides in 2022 by tallying two goals and seven assists.

The bar for success will be considerably higher next season, though how much he grows also depends on how the Fire use him. If Jairo Torres gets off to another slow start or Shaqiri’s health is an issue, the Fire shouldn’t hesitate to stick Gutierrez in the starting lineup and keep him there. And if Gutierrez forces his way into the opening 11, the Fire must make room for him.

Gutierrez’s growth is important for reasons beyond wins and losses. An academy product, Gutierrez becoming a star would continue the team’s trend of developing young players after the emergence of Gabriel Slonina and Chris Brady. For Gutierrez, a big 2023 could get him into contention for minutes with the United States national team.

Fortify bonds with Red Stars

The Fire and Red Stars have teamed up on some initiatives and marketing promotions, and it would be a positive for both sides if that strengthens. It also would help soccer in Chicago, considering the challenging issues both clubs are facing.

Though reaching a somewhat different audience would be a plus, the Fire can lend a hand to a Red Stars franchise that really needs help after former coach Rory Dames’ and outgoing owner Arnim Whisler’s misconduct was revealed. Assuming the Red Stars remain in Chicago after they’re sold, the Fire can make a point of promoting women’s soccer by making a Soldier Field doubleheader an annual event and spearheading a more-involved partnership.

While he has plenty on his plate already, former Fire executive and current Red Stars interim chief business officer Mike Ernst could be a conduit between the two clubs. Ernst built a very strong reputation with Fire fans and likely sees opportunities for the Fire and Red Stars to bolster the soccer market together.

Communicate with fans in new ways

Owner Joe Mansueto has invested heavily in digital media since taking over the club, and the results have been impressive. The team’s original productions are top-notch, and the Fire have found entertaining ways to announce signings and go behind the scenes of the franchise.

Keeping this going in 2023 will be crucial for a couple reasons.

With the league’s new broadcast deal moving games onto Apple TV+, the Fire are losing WGN and their most effective marketing vehicle. At the same time, Elon Musk seems to be throwing Twitter’s future into flux, and it’s hard to know whether it will be a useful way to communicate by the end of 2023.

The Fire can get ahead of those challenges by staying creative and perhaps curating accounts on nascent Twitter alternatives Post and Mastodon. The club also should keep former play-by-play announcer Tyler Terens as an ambassador, even if he ends up on the roster of Apple TV+ broadcasters. Over three years, Terens has built a relationship with the Fire’s fans, and keeping those types of bonds will be more pressing in the new media environment.

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