Fire await Gilberto's arrival, admit more dealings in the works


Fire await Gilberto's arrival, admit more dealings in the works

The Chicago Fire signed Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. Well, for the briefest of moments, that is.

Monday’s confirmation -- spotlighting negotiations between the Fire and the Ivorian’s camp that reached a climax with a sign-and-trade deal agreed upon with the Montreal Impact – precipitated Toronto FC forward Gilberto Oliveira Souza Júnior’s move to Chicago as a designated player.

With Drogba ultimately preferring Montreal to Chicago in favor of accommodating his family to the francophone culture, the Fire relinquished the player’s discovery rights to Montreal, which reportedly doled out upward of $250,000 in general and targeted allocation money to the Chicago club. That sum, in turn, enabled the Fire to use the Targeted Allocation Money mechanism to buy down the cap hit of Kennedy Igboananike, who, according to the MLS Players Union, was set to earn a guaranteed compensation of $901,666.67 in 2015.

[RELATED: Fire land Brazilian forward Gilberto from Toronto FC]

"We paid a big fee for David [Accam], and we’ve put our future into him,” head coach Frank Yallop said Monday via teleconference. “It’s picking and choosing. Brian [Technical Director Brian Bliss] works with the league pretty closely and we all talk about it. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason behind it, it’s just the best way of doing it for us.”

Gilberto, whose guaranteed compensation in 2014 was $1,205,000.00, appeared on Yallop’s radar within the last three to four weeks, and was back on Toronto’s books and subsequently placed on waivers after his loan spell with Brazilian outfit Vasco de Gama was terminated. As a result, the club “retained a substantial portion of our initial investment on a future sale,” according to TFC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko.

The 27-year-old’s sudden return left Toronto at a crossroads, however, having all three of their designated player slots already filled with Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. The Canadian side was no longer roster compliant under Major League Soccer’s rules, opening the door for the Fire, who were positioned first in the waiver draft order, to claim him.

[SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey]

“We’ve just been trying to recognize what we wanted to do in the window, and I think he’s a quality player,” Yallop added. “He had a good end to his season with Toronto. I’ve always liked the way he played, and it’s a great opportunity for us to acquire him. ... From watching him and doing our homework, we made that decision and it was a good one.”

For now, the Fire await the receipt of his P-1 visa. If all goes according to plan, Yallop indicated Gilberto could join the team at the beginning of next week, and render himself available for the trip to Portland to face the Timbers on Aug. 7. With the close of the summer transfer window on Aug. 6, Yallop could also be gearing up to make further use of the allocation funds to splash out on a defender.

“We’re working on some stuff as we speak; obviously the window is coming to a close in 10 days,” Yallop said. “I’ve said it all along, we’ve been pretty poor in both boxes, scoring and keeping them out, so we’re trying to get some help at the back. Some help in that department would be good; we’re trying to do that. It’s just getting the all-clear and getting the players to sign. Big thing for me is making sure that it’s the right thing for the club moving forward.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.