Fire trade to add defensive depth, but mostly stand pat on trade deadline day


Fire trade to add defensive depth, but mostly stand pat on trade deadline day

There were plenty of rumors, but no moves through the summer transfer window for the Chicago Fire.

That changed on the last day of the window being open. The Fire made a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday to add defender Christian Dean. Going the other way, the Fire sent $50,000 of general allocation money to the Whitecaps with the potential for more depending on Dean’s appearances with the Fire.

If Dean, 24, makes 12 or more starts in 2018, the Fire will send another $50,000 of targeted allocation money to Vancouver. Vancouver also retained a percentage of any transfer fees the Fire may get by selling Dean to a team outside the league by 2020. Dean’s contract is guaranteed through 2018 with options for 2019 and 2020.

Centerback depth is something Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has said was something the team needed since early in the season. With Dean, the Fire now have four players at the position to go with Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira and Jonathan Campbell. In the short term, it would be surprising to see him get much playing time without an injury to one of the three players on the roster.

Dean, 24, was the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft after playing three years at Cal. He played nine times in his first two years with the Whitecaps, with four of those being starts. In 2016, Dean suffered a broken bone in his foot just before the start of the regular season and missed the whole year.

This season, Dean has made three starts for the Whitecaps and four more starts for the club’s USL team. For what it’s worth, in Dean’s three games this year, Vancouver played to a scoreless draw, a 3-2 loss and a 3-0 loss in which he was subbed out when it was 1-0 in the second half.   

He started three of the first five Whitecaps matches before suffering another foot injury. The Whitecaps listed his injury as a stress reaction in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot suffered in training on April 25.

The Dean trade isn’t likely to be significant to the 2017 Fire’s chances of success in the playoffs, but depth is a welcome addition at a position the team was thin at. For the most part, the lack of big moves shows that Rodriguez and the Fire were more or less satisfied with where the roster stands.

“We always said that we work on our roster almost without stop,” coach Veljko Paunovic said after training on Wednesday.

The Fire had brought in some defenders to train with the team as trialists, but none of them stuck. Just under two weeks ago, Rodriguez said he didn’t feel “comfortable” with the options the team had as far as filling out that defensive depth. He also said they wouldn’t add a player “just to check a box on a list.”

“I think it’s very important in these moments that we remain disciplined,” Rodriguez said then. “We have spoken about and had a three-year plan that admittedly is accelerated a bit by our ability to be nimble and capture opportunities. But the other part of our plan is where we try to create a championship program and to have sustainability.”

Throughout the summer there had been rumors of the Fire chasing Colombian national team player Juan Quintero. That move broke down, for this transfer window at least, with Quintero extending his loan spell at Colombian club Independiente Medellín for six more months.

Rumors of David Accam’s exit were rampant throughout the last few weeks, but it appears more likely that he will stay through the end of the season. While the MLS trade and transfer window closed on Wednesday, that only restricts players coming into or moving within the league. The transfer window for much of Europe closes at the end of August, meaning Accam can still leave, though it appears less likely that will happen without the Fire being able to add another player in his place.

So while the addition of Dean does fill a need, the lack of other moves show that the Fire mostly stood pat with the team that is currently second in the Eastern Conference.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.