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Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez still 'searching' for potential summer additions

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Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez still 'searching' for potential summer additions

The summer transfer window in Major League Soccer has been open for a couple weeks and the Chicago Fire may make a couple moves before it closes on August 9.

Those moves may not necessarily affect the regular starting lineup, but Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Friday that they continue to seek out options to add depth to the team’s defense and that they may need another goalkeeper with Jorge Bava possibly being out for the season.

Bava, a 35 year-old from Uruguay who joined the Fire in January, has been out with what the club is calling left elbow tendinitis. He started the first eight matches of the season, but lost his starting job to Matt Lampson in May. He hasn’t been available as a sub since he was the backup June 4 in Orlando. Bava has been limited in training recently while wearing a brace on his left arm.

Rodriguez said Bava will go on the disabled list. While he is on the disabled list, he would not take up an international spot but would still count against the team’s salary cap.

“If he ends up needing surgery, which I think is likely, then his season will likely be lost and that international spot will open up, but there’s no budget room,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez added that if Bava is out for the season that will “require us to consider looking for another goalkeeper.” The Fire have two others on the roster in Lampson and rookie Stefan Cleveland, who hasn’t played for the Fire and has made only one appearance for USL affiliate Tulsa.

Slightly further up the field, defensive depth is something Rodriguez mentioned the team needed more of back in May. There are still only three centerbacks on the roster in Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira and Jonathan Campbell. A significant injury to any of those three would significantly hamper Veljko Paunovic’s options and flexibility, especially considering his tendency to use all three on the field in a tactical shift on occasion.

Justin Bilyeu, a 23-year-old former New York Red Bulls defender and former college teammate of Fire defender Matt Polster, has been training with the Fire for the past couple weeks. Bilyeu spent most of the past two seasons with the Red Bulls’ USL team before being waived on June 28. In addition, Cuban left back Jorge Corrales, who is currently a Tulsa player, was in training with the Fire this week, but is set to return to Tulsa for the Roughnecks’ next match on Monday.

“We have brought a couple players in on trial this week,” Rodriguez said of the pursuit of defensive depth. “We’ve spoken to a couple teams within the league. We continue to follow some targets, but we have not settled on a specific player to pursue. I don’t think we have yet felt comfortable with what we have in the pipeline, but we’ll keep searching.”

Rodriguez said the team is also looking at improving the midfield, but believes they are “pretty set” at forward. He wouldn’t comment on the rumors of Colombian playmaker Juan Quintero. The latest on that front is a tweet from Taylor Twellman saying the deal isn’t dead even though Quintero extended his loan with Colombian club DIM.


With the Fire sitting in second place in MLS, Rodriguez admitted his three-year plan for the team has been “accelerated a bit.” Rodriguez has a chance to put the cherry on top of a roster that has proven to be one of the best in the league to this point in the season. Is there more urgency to try to boost a team that appears to be a championship contender?

“There’s always a temptation to think ‘Oh man, we’re right there and if we get this piece it will just push us over the top.’ We remind ourselves all the time to refer back to our plan, to look at the opportunity to try to calculate what the knock on effects, positive and negative may be for the future, because ultimately we want to keep this good thing going for a run and a run isn’t one season.

“If something makes sense to us when you think it fits into the development of that championship program, we’ll do it. Just as we’ve been unable to add that backline depth all year long, we won’t do something just to check a box on a list. We’ll only do it if we think it makes sense in the overall context of what we’re trying to achieve.”

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.