Fire

Fire homegrown player Collin Fernandez makes USL top prospect list

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USA TODAY

Fire homegrown player Collin Fernandez makes USL top prospect list

As Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League have partnered, the USL has become a more viable league for player development.

Each year the USL showcases some of the young talent in its league with the USL 20 Under 20 series posted to the league’s website, rankings the top 20 USL players who are 20 years old or younger. It’s the closest thing to MLS prospect rankings you’ll see.

This year, Fire homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez made the list at No. 18. Fernandez has been playing on loan with the Tulsa Roughnecks this season and is getting positive reviews for his play.

The scouting report on his 20 Under 20 bio, which came via TopDrawerSoccer.com, called this a breakthrough season for Fernandez:

Deployed in a deeper midfield role instead of an attacking midfield spot, Fernandez has been able to adjust to the USL and let his passing ability shine. Fernandez is in the top five for Tulsa’s passes and passing percentage, as the move deeper in the lineup allows him to get on the ball and help his side transition from attack to defense. While he’s more of a slight build, the experience this season has shown that he can stamp his authority against bigger, older players.

Fernandez, 20, struggled to get playing time in his first two years of professional soccer. In 2015 and 2016 he made just three combined appearances that totaled 14 minutes. Fernandez was on loan with Saint Louis FC, another USL team, for much of 2016, but injuries and time with Peru’s under-20 national team prevented him from being available to St. Louis on a consistent basis.

This year, Fernandez has made 13 starts and another appearance off the bench for 1,134 minutes played. He has a goal and a pair of assists.

“What’s been good about Tulsa is they saw and (coach) David Vaudreuil saw Collin in a way that we didn’t so he’s played more as an eight, which is something that we hadn’t considered, and he’s done well,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said in May. “So it’s made us rethink how we look at Collin, so that’s been good.”

Another player the Fire had on loan in Tulsa was Joey Calistri. Calistri was recalled to the Fire this week and had good things to say about Fernandez’s play.

“He’s been playing really well,” Calistri said. “He’s been playing holding mid for us and he did a great job. He’s up and down. He can cover a lot of ground. He’s like a little pitbull out there. He’s a good player. He’s good in the middle, a lot of energy out there and he definitely helped Tulsa do very well.”

Fernandez had an impressive assist in a game on July 13:

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

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USA TODAY

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

When the Fire announced that three goalkeepers, Jorge Bava, Matt Lampson and Stefan Cleveland, all had their options picked up for 2018 and the team was negotiating a deal to bring back Richard Sanchez, something had to give.

It appears that has been sorted out with the news that Sanchez is in fact back with the Fire, but also that it appears Bava has left the team.

On Monday the Fire announced Sanchez signed a contract guaranteeing him for 2018 and 2019 with a club option for 2020. The 23-year-old made two starts with the Fire in 2017 after he was brought in on Aug. 11.

As is fairly common practice in MLS, the option on Sanchez's initial contract with the Fire was for more than what he signed for on this new deal, according to a source. This is similar to what happened with Razvan Cocis and Luis Solignac in the past two years. Those players both had their options declined only to be brought back for a lower salary number.

Sanchez had mixed results on the field, making one of the better goalkeeper performances the Fire had in 2017 in his debut in San Jose, but then struggled in the regular season finale in Houston. He's young enough to believe he can improve, especially at goalkeeper where players tend to hit their peak older than field players.

As for Bava, it seems all but official that he has joined Liverpool FC Montevideo in his home country of Uruguay. The team's official account tweeted out a welcome to Bava, although there has been no word from the Fire yet.

Bava, 36, made eight starts before being benched in favor of Lampson and missed the second half of the season with an elbow injury that required surgery. Once Bava's exit is finalized the Fire will have three goalkeepers instead of the overloaded four.

When Bava was hurt and Sanchez was brought on as a late-season replacement, Lampson and Sanchez emerged as the two candidates for starting goalkeeper. It appears that battle will continue in 2018.

Lampson has far more professional experience with 51 MLS appearances while Sanchez only made sporadic starts in lower divisions in the U.S. and Mexico before joining the Fire. Sanchez was a fairly well-regarded prospect having played with Mexico's Under-17 and U-20 teams at youth World Cups.

Not counting Bava, the Fire have 19 players under contract. Bastian Schweinsteiger's situation remains unofficial, although reports have said he is likely to return. The MLS combine has completed two of three rounds of matches with the draft taking place on Friday.

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

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USA TODAY

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

For the past two offseasons, Cam Lindley’s name has popped up as a potential key addition for the Fire.

The North Carolina sophomore has been one of the top midfielders in college soccer the past two seasons and has established himself as a good MLS prospect. The Fire held his homegrown rights after he traveled from Indianapolis to play with the Fire’s academy in high school, even helping the U-18 team win the Development Academy national title in 2015.

The Fire failed to sign him last offseason, with Lindley electing to return to college. When the college season ended and negotiations started up again this winter, Lindley turned down the Fire’s homegrown offer. Initially, it was expected that meant he was returning to school, but now Paul Tenorio has reported that the Fire traded Lindley’s homegrown rights to Orlando.


In Tenorio’s reported deal, which he said was still being finalized, the Fire receive right back Rafael Ramos and allocation money from the Lions. The move means Orlando gets the exclusive rights within MLS to negotiate with Lindley and if he signs he will still count as a homegrown for Orlando.

Lindley did not train at all with the Fire in the past year, instead electing to stay in North Carolina when he played in the PDL (a summer league for college players). In 2016, Lindley played with the Fire’s PDL team. The Fire’s three other best homegrown prospects who played in college this past season, Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman and Mauricio Pineda, all spent some time in training with the Fire in 2017. Pineda stayed after practice multiple times with coach Veljko Paunovic in one-on-one drills. Lillard, the only senior of the four, signed his homegrown deal with the Fire earlier this week.

On the one hand, the Fire get a player in Ramos, who is 23 years old and could help provide depth at both right back and left back. The Portuguese player made 39 MLS appearances in three years with Orlando, including 24 starts in 2015, but injuries contributed to a lack of playing time last season when

Ramos played 55 MLS minutes. A hamstring injury limited him in 2016 and again in the 2017 preseason when he was expected to be the starter at right back. Once he returned, Scott Sutter had established himself at the position.

Ramos vented his frustration at a lack of playing time in an Orlando Sentinel story in October.

On the other hand, Lindley is a player who was racking up the accolades at UNC. As a freshman he tallied seven assists and was named national Freshman of the Year by Top Drawer Soccer and a first team All-ACC pick. This season, he had seven goals and 13 assists and was a first team All-American by United Soccer Coaches, Top Drawer Soccer and College Soccer News in addition to being named ACC Midfielder of the Year. The Tar Heels made it to the College Cup semifinals both years.

The midfielder could be good enough to receive interest from European teams, which could make it good business for the Fire to get something from within MLS for him instead of letting him go for free.

If the trade materializes, it will be a failure on the Fire’s part to convince a talented young player who spent time in the team’s academy to sign, but also a success in getting something of value in return for a player who may not want to sign with the team.