Chicago Fire FC legend Zach Thornton returns as a coach


CHICAGO – As the club celebrated its 25th anniversary during the 2022 Major League Soccer season, his name came up a lot when discussing past legends.

How could it not?

After all, Zach Thornton was part of the glory days of Chicago Fire FC that came in its infancy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Six domestic championships – including the 1998 MLS Cup – were part of his legacy, as goalkeeper did his part to bring keep the club at the top of the league.

A generation later, Thornton is getting the chance to return to the Fire in hopes of rekindling the success the club had when he was a player, which has escaped them over the past decade.

A goalkeeper coach for the last eight seasons in MLS, the Fire legend is returning to take the same job in 2023, taking over for Adin Brown, who took the same job with the San Jose Earthquakes to be closer to family.

“I’m very excited to come back,” said Thornton when speaking with WGN News Now. “I love Chicago. It’s my second home.”

Hired by manager Ezra Hendrickson, whom he played with while a member of the New York/New Jersey Metrostars (Now New York Red Bulls) in 1997, Thornton returns to Chicago in hopes of aiding the rise of the Fire back to the top of the league.

“It was great to do it as a player, like you said, in ’98, and then the open cup championship. But to be able to give that back to the city, to give that back to the club, to give that back to these players, would mean the world to me,” said Thornton. “To get them going in the right direction is something I’m really, really putting a lot of my emphasis on – to help get the team back on track.”

After playing in MLS from 1996 through 2011, including 1998-2006 with the Fire, Thornton started his coaching career as a volunteer goalkeeping coach with Loyola University Maryland in 2012. Later that year, he moved on to Elizabethtown College where he served in the same position for the men’s and women’s programs at the school.

In 2013, he became the associate head coach at Villanova for two years before joining DC United as their goalkeeper coach in 2015. Thronton remained there until 2021 when he joined the Houston Dynamo in the same role for one season.

“I’m big on relationships. I’m big on trust. Players trust in me, me trusting them, and respect. Respecting me, I respect them,” said Thornton when asked about his coaching style. “The relationship, the open communication, the trust is a huge, huge thing for me.”

He’ll start building relationships with the Fire goalkeepers when training camp begins early in the new year. Thornton joins a club that has only made the playoffs once over the last decade and is in its second year under Hendrickson as they look to get things righted in 2023.

The new goalkeeper’s coach doesn’t believe it’s that far away.

“I don’t think much. Just a few tweaks here and there,” said Thornton when asked what it will take for the club to return to the elite in MLS. “The leadership, ownership, the coaching staff, players, everything’s in place. I think a few minor adjustments and we’ll be right where we want to be, back to how things used to be in the past.

WGN News Now’s Larry Hawley talked more with Thornton on his return to Chicago, which you can watch in the video above.

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