Chicago Fire: Recapping the offseason so far

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - JUNE 09: Chicago Fire mascot Sparky pose before the game against the New England Revolution on June 9, 2018 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BRIDGEVIEW, IL - JUNE 09: Chicago Fire mascot Sparky pose before the game against the New England Revolution on June 9, 2018 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

It’s been a hectic offseason for fans of the Chicago Fire, who have seen signings, departures, and even retirements. Here’s how the story has gone so far.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

The Chicago Fire 2018 season came to a close on October 28th after the Men in Red drew 0-0 to D.C United in the final game of the year. It was a fitting end to a nightmarish season that saw the club go through countless problems on and off the pitch.

The team finished second to last in the Eastern Conference and missed a playoff spot by 18 points. At one point, they went on an eight-game losing streak and ended the campaign winning only two out of their last seven matches at home.

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Things were even worse away from the field. The Fire front office unjustly banned supporter group Sector Latino, which lead to Section 8 protesting games as a response. Attendance tanked and Toyota Park lost any sort of atmosphere as a result. There was confusion surrounding the futures of Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic.

After the final whistle blew against D.C, the offseason officially started for Chicago, and much like the season, it’s been a rollercoaster couple of months.

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It couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. Brandon Vincent shockingly announced that he was retiring only two days after the campaign ended. Almost no one saw the decision coming. He was only 24 years old, was a crucial part of the Fire backline, and had even been called into a recent United States men’s national team camp. The Fire already knew that they would need to bring in defensive reinforcements, but they were now faced with the problem of replacing a player who played just under 3,000 minutes for the team last season. Two days later, defender Christian Dean also retired, though that news did not send as many shockwaves throughout the league.

It would be a quiet number of weeks afterwards. Nothing really happened until the Fire announced whose contract options would be picked up and whose would be declined. The club signed to the options on Brandt Bronico, Diego Campos, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Elliot Collier, Raheem Edwards, and Nicolas Hasler, while turning down Jonathan Campbell, Drew Conner, Michael de Leeuw, Daniel Johnson, Patrick McLain, Yura Movsisyan, and Luis Solignac.

Most of the calls made by the front office were expected, but many were surprised to see De Leeuw have his option turned down. The end of the press release stated that the club and player were negotiating on a new deal, but that would never come to fruition as the Dutchman went back home to sign for Eredivisie side FC Emmen. The Lion played a key role in the team’s success in 2017 but missed most of the following year through injury. Fans were excited to see a fully healthy De Leeuw back at Toyota Park, but it seems the club weren’t willing to pay the player what he thought he was worth.

There would finally be some good news a few days later as is it was confirmed that Bastian Schweinsteiger would be re-signing for another season with the Fire. At 34, there were worries that the German legend would be retiring, but the front office was able to persuade the Fussballgott to stay for one more year. Some might question his salary, but Schweinsteiger is still a global icon and has the technical ability to make up for what he lost in his physical abilities. Now, the questions turns to what position will he play. Will he stay at center-back or will he be allowed to return to his natural role in the center of the park?

Chicago Fire, Marcelo
Marcelo, who signed with Chicago Fire this offseason. (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images) /

The MLS Expansion and Waiver drafts came and went without the Fire making any real noise. No one on the roster was taken by FC Cincinnati, while Chicago picked up Christian Martinez and Marco Urena, but neither signed with the club on the day, with the latter of the two choosing to go back home to Costa Rican side Alajuelense. The club also picked up attacker Fabian Herbers in a trade with the Philadelphia Union in exchange for a second-round pick in the upcoming MLS Draft. It was a smart pickup in terms of depth, but it was far from the big name acquisition fans were clamoring for.

That signing would come eventually. The Chicago Fire announced that they had signed Brazilian center-back Marcelo from Liga NOS powerhouse Sporting CP about a week later. An experienced defender, the 29-year-old spent the last eight years of his career in the Portuguese first division. At 5’10”, he is not the biggest presence in the air, but he knows how to handle the ball at his feet, which is key considering how the Fire want to build out of the back. He is not the most well-known player on the planet but was a smart signing considering the club’s problems at the back.

The calendar year of 2019 started off with the club announcing that head coach Veljko Paunovic had signed a multi-year contract extension. It was a controversial decision at the time, with the fanbase split on their opinions of the head coach. Those that defended him pointed to the 2017 season, where he led the team to the playoffs and blamed the failures of this past season on the weak roster given to him by management. However, most disagreed with the call made by the front office and pointed to the Serbians woeful win-loss record and how many bridges he has burned with players who showed genuine promise at the club. This upcoming year will be especially big for Paunovic, who needs to prove himself at this level.

The MLS Draft was next, with many expecting the Chicago Fire to make waves. The front office had made draft day must see in the past, with many big decisions being made during the draft. This was amplified when the city of Chicago was given the rights to host the draft. In the end, it was much ado about nothing. The Fire traded away their first-round pick for allocation money, traded a second-round pick to the Red Bulls for Amando Moreno, and then just sat out the rest of the day. The draft has become less important due to the increase in homegrown signings across the league, but it was a shame for those Fire fans in attendance to not see anyone join the club in front of their eyes.

Arguably the biggest news day of the offseason came on the 22nd of January when the Fire announced they had signed Przemysław Frankowski and Jeremiah Gutjahr. Frankowski was the marquee acquisition; the 23-year-old came to Chicago from Polish league side Jagiellonia. A starter for his country at the national level, the winger is quick and direct, with plenty of pace to drive opposing defences wild. His goalscoring record is a bit worrying as he has only managed three goals so far this season, but there’s hope he can explode onto the scene like Aleksandar Katai did last year. Gutjahr was a homegrown signing made after impressing at Indiana University and showed genuine promise in his time at the academy and collegiate level. He’s also made appearances for the United States at the youth level and will definitely be someone to keep an eye on in 2019.

More depth was added to the roster a few days later when Christian Martinez and Amando Moreno signed deals with the club before the start of preseason. Martinez was originally picked up during the MLS Waiver Draft, while the club got the rights for Moreno in a trade with the Red Bulls on Draft Day. Neither is expected to set the league alight, but they are both young wingers that can develop into exciting options off the bench. Even more depth came in the next day, as the Fire announced that they had signed 17-year-old defender Andre Reynolds II to a Homegrown deal.

The good times kept on rolling after the team had flown out to Madrid for the beginning of preseason. It started with the news that starting center-back Johan Kappelhof had re-signed with the club, keeping him in Chicago until the end of the 2021 season at the very least. There were fears the Dutchman wanted to return home like compatriot De Leeuw or be traded to another team in MLS with more legitimate title aspirations. The Fire were able to convince him to stay and now look towards the future with him and Marcelo as a center-back pairing.

Chicago Fire, Przemyslaw Frankowski
Przemysław Frankowski, who signed with Chicago Fire this offseason. (Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

The goalkeeper position was also one that needed change and Chicago was able to finally bring in a keeper with a decent MLS pedigree. Coming to the club off waivers, league veteran David Ousted signed a deal with the Men In Red after being deemed surplus to requirements by D.C United. The 33-year-old Danish keeper made his name with the Vancouver Whitecaps and brings a load of experience with him. The Dane might not make the most jaw-dropping saves, but he is a keeper who doesn’t make many mistakes, which is already miles better than what the Fire have had in goalkeepers since Sean Johnson was forced out the club.

The Fire have missed out on bringing two key players into the fold for this upcoming campaign. Starting right-back Matt Polster was out of contract with the club and ended up signing for Scottish side Rangers after impressing the team on trial. There were hopes he would re-sign but the chance to try his luck overseas was too tempting for Polster to turn down. Another full-back who the Fire have lost to the Scottish league is academy product Andrew Gutman, who reportedly turned down a homegrown contract to join famed European club Celtic F.C. Winning the MAC Hermann Trophy after being named the best player in collegiate soccer last year, the Fire hoped he could help solve some of the team’s many issues at the back, but it’s now clear the club will have to look elsewhere for reinforcements.

Next. Chicago Fire: Marcelo the right kind of building block. dark

Now, fast forwarding to the present, the team are in sunny Spain and just tied 1-1 with the Atletico Madrid B team in a friendly. With about two months before the regular season starts, the roster is far from complete but is showing some genuine promise. Nevertheless, the front office still needs to make a number of signings if the Fire want to have legitimate hopes of making it back to the playoffs. They do need to resolve the issues off the field as well, and that has to start with the immediate reinstatement of Sector Latino. Until then, Chicago Fire fans still reserve the right to worry about the upcoming season.