Chicago Fire

Ezra Hendrickson evaluates his first season as Chicago Fire head coach so far

Chris Smith
Hendrickson has learned some harsh lessons with the Fire.
Hendrickson has learned some harsh lessons with the Fire. / Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

It was never going to be easy but it's safe to say Ezra Hendrickson has faced some challenges during his first year as Chicago Fire head coach.

The 1998 MLS Cup champions have long been suffering in the lower reaches of Major League Soccer, making the playoffs just twice in their last 12 seasons while they haven't finished higher than 17th overall in the past four campaigns.

Taking over from interim boss Frank Klopas - who temporarily replaced Raphael Wicky - Hendrickson made a promising start, going unbeaten in his first five MLS matches in charge and overseeing four clean sheets during that run.

But the scale of the job at Soldier Field is starting to sink in, with the Fire now winless in their last 10 MLS matches, losing seven of them and sinking to the bottom of the overall standings. Given the level of turnover needed to improve the roster, perhaps it was fanciful to think Hendrickson could turn Chicago into a Playoff team over just a few months.

"Being a first-year coach, it's not easy when you have such a large turnover, I think we let go of nine players in the off-season," Hendrickson told reporters ahead of this weekend's home match against DC United.

"We knew it would take a while and that some patience would be needed. I'm still learning on the job even though I've been an assistant coach for a number of years. When you're making those final decisions, things become a little bit different, there’s a little more pressure."

While Hendrickson has already been taught some harsh lessons about life as the No.1 on the sidelines, he's quite pleased with how things have gone, even if he's had to bear a large weight of 'responsibility' for some poor results.

"All that being said, I think I've handled it well," Hendrickson reflected.

"It's not easy, especially when you're not getting the job done, not so much tactically, but just the mistakes that have been made, ultimately as a head coach you're responsible for, an ill-advised foul in the box or ill-advised red card in the first half. Things like that, I take responsibility for that because it's my job to make sure the guys stay disciplined and remain disciplined.

"Then when we make mistakes that hurt the team, ultimately it comes down to me. I think in that aspect I need to improve and we have been trying to improve the guys’ discipline, basically just leaving the ref alone and just playing the game, getting more in control of that. Just finding ways to finish games is something that ultimately comes down to me.

"Yes, the players have to execute but I think it's my job to make sure that we have the right players on the pitch to do the job, and so that's something that I think I need to improve on because it's a results-based business and you know, we need to find ways to win.

"As the head coach, you need to make sure that you have the right people in the right spots, doing the right things at the right time to win games, and that's something that we haven't been doing, just winning two games [in] the first 14."

Despite the poor run they're on, Chicago have shown improvement, especially in the last four matches where their three defeats were all by just a single goal - including 1-0 away at reigning champions NYCFC - and they pulled off a 3-3 draw at the New York Red Bulls. In the latter, the Fire were just moments away from an impressive victory.

Something to build on this weekend, perhaps?

"We have seen improvement, especially the last three or four games or so, so we’re looking forward to getting back onto the pitch on Saturday," said Hendrickson.