Who will be next to wear the Chicago Fire jersey?
Abstruse is a fun word. Do you know why? Because, it means ‘hard to understand’ or incomprehensible or, better yet, perplexing. Fun, huh? A word with a meaning you immediately say “Oh, yeah, of course” once you hear its definition because you’ve never heard anyone use it in a sentence—written or spoken. It’s pejorative. Which means it’s not a nice thing to say about someone or something.
I’m not just writing this to make myself sound like a pseudo-intellectual (although I am), no I’m writing this to let you know what I think of the MLS take on transfer season. It’s difficult to understand a professional football league that refuses to toe the line with the rest of the world’s professionals. Whatever. The Designated Player, a purely US creation, could actually be interestingly employed (more on that later).
As an English Premier League football fan, I love transfer season for so many, many reasons but mostly because it allows my inner geek to speculate. Speculation is manna to all football supporters. Thus I now take my precious gift of “You know what, I’ll tell you what…” and apply it to my national team, the Chicago Fire.
Chicago have problems like all clubs. Fortunately, the problems the Fire have are not based in players failing to live up to expectations (think Arsenal) or players being hired-guns only able to play as individuals and not a team (think ManCity) or even front office pressure that inevitably leads to confusion on the pitch (nearly every Italian squad). The issue with the Fire squad are lack of pieces to complete the puzzle.
For example, Chicago desperately needs a deadball specialist—someone who has to taken seriously on penalties and someone who can take a corner and drop it in the box. As of right now, Chicago have a slew of individuals who can do the work but who don’t excel at the job. The fact is, a Chicago corner kick is an ugly affair, which is a horror in a sport called the beautiful game. Perhaps this is something that can be remedied with focused practice. But the easiest way to fix the situation is to bring in someone. So, that’s the first missing piece.
This leads us to the second, the lack of a body in the box to take the service. No one on the Fire have that killer instinct, that mindset of “If the ball is in the box, it’s my ball and I’m heading into the back of the net.” Every quality team needs to have a centerback who comes to the fore on corners and slices through the mass of bodies. Chelsea has John Terry and Manchester United has Nemanja Vidic, these are two of the best players in the world.
We can’t expect every team to have a player like this because they just don’t exist, they are rare jewels and even if you hate their colors you know that they are precious. My point is, you have to have a player on your squad that wants to be like this, that considers the box (on either end of the pitch) theirs and theirs alone. The best service in the world will fail without someone else to execute on the other end.
And while we’re talking about the defensive end of the pitch, let’s talk fullbacks. A great leftback/rightback can redeem a tired midfield or, equally, energize a flagging attack. Chicago has Gustavo Segares who is putting in a brilliant effort this season and rookie Jalil Anibaba who is quickly taking to the position (a slight transition from centerback in college). As Anibaba learns the ropes, there’s Bratislav Ristic to back him up (and soon enough injured Steve Kinney). But Ristic and Sega are ‘aging’ (31 & 28 respectively). The Fire need to plan on finding the next players to step into those roles. Tryout sensation Pari Pantazopoulos could be that, but another signing is always a good idea.
So, to my mind, the Fire need a deadball specialist most likely a midfielder, a centerback with an eye for dominance, and a young fullback with vision. I also don’t really believe in internationals as the DP or transfer standard. The MLS needs to cultivate a transfer culture similar to the EPL where players can move from lower league clubs to hirer and vice versa with ease. The Designated Player could function like a sort of Franchise Player, being the player(s) that are the face of the team. For the Fire, Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, and Sean Johnson would all fit this role. But honestly, that’s a bit of tangent—an idea to be saved for another time.
To the task at hand, here in the US there are plenty of quality players that just need to be given the chance by their national league to shine. So the following players are simply individuals that I believe would shine in the Fire’s club culture and possibly complete the puzzle. Hopefully, this list will entertain, provoke more speculation in you other football supporters, and demonstrate my own abstruse reasoning.
Kyle Altman, Centerback
Minnesota Stars of the NASL
Altman has been a rock for the Stars, a leader on the pitch and off. As a CB for the Fire he would bring maturity to the defensive but still being 24 he’s entering his prime as a player. This acquisition would strengthen and deepen the Fire defense.
Perry Kitchen, Fullback
This kid has done quite well for DC, thus we must pinch him and make him ours. Acquiring Kitchen would mean that Anibaba could shift to centerback with more ease and there would be someone able to learn from Sega to eventually take over the side.
Austin da Luz, midfield
NY Red Bulls
The matches where I’ve seen da Luz play he has had a certain poise that I think would serve the Fire well. His control of the ball and long passes would add a needed element to the Fire game plan.
Gershon Koffie, midfield
We all love Ghana in Chicago. Nyarko has become a stalwart winger and currently all Fire supporters praise the trade for Dominic Oduro from Houston. All the more reason to get another in the mix. Koffie has played hard in the MLS thus far this year and I think he could benefit from playing on a team with some of his countrymen who could mentor him.
Jonathan Fana, midfield/forward
Puerto Rico Islanders
Fana is damn fast and can run circles around tall oak defenders. Add to this the ability to cross beautifully and I think we can conclude he would be an asset. Though a bit older, think of Fana like Toronto’s Joao Plata.
Written by Daniel Casey.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter at @winslowbobbins