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Rodriguez teases news of pending Fire signings, potential trade of top pick

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Rodriguez teases news of pending Fire signings, potential trade of top pick

Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke to the media in a conference call Tuesday afternoon and revealed key details about the rest of the offseason.

The highlights were the promise of one or two European center backs to join the squad, at least two MLS free agent signings to be announced in less than a week and an update on the status of the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.

The biggest reveal was that the Fire have agreed to terms with a European center back. Rodriguez said the contract is not yet signed, but they expect it to go through. In addition, the Fire have made a “competitive offer” for a second European center back, who also has Champions League teams interested in him.

“Our priority has always been and remains to some degree the center back position,” Rodriguez said. “We have agreed to terms with a European center back. That contract is not yet signed, but we have no reason to believe that there will be any hangups. We have an outstanding offer out to a second European center back. In that instance we are competing with Champions League teams for him and we’re hopeful.”

[MORE: Fire release 2016 MLS schedule]

Rodriguez also detailed that the second European center back would not be a designated player, but rather a player that the team would use the new targeted allocation money.

“We would be very excited to acquire this player, but obviously it’s a challenge and it’s a global market,” Rodriguez said. “We’re competing against that global market. I know that our offer is competitive and I know that our project of where we are taking Chicago Fire is competitive. I know that because the representative of that player has contacted us each of the last two days to say ‘We remain interested in the Fire, can you give us a few more days?’ Being that we don’t feel the need to impose a deadline we are also targeting other center backs alternatives to that one. We have contingencies in play and we will continue to work that. The second one would be another good one to go with the one we’ve agreed to terms.”

In news that sounds more imminent, the Fire have agreed to terms with two Major League Soccer free agents.

“In less than a week’s time we will announce two MLS free agents with whom we’ve reached terms,” Rodriguez said. “We are simply waiting on the requisite paperwork from the league.”

Rodriguez also noted that the Fire’s first round pick in Thursday’s draft, which is the No. 1 overall selection, could potentially be traded. According to Rodriguez, the Fire received two offers on Tuesday, which was the last day of the MLS Combine, and have already rejected an offer they received about a month ago. The two offers the Fire received were “extremely similar.” In addition, three or four other teams have “inquired about the pick.”

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Rodriguez detailed what it would take for the Fire to trade the pick, although he added that the team has not decided whether the pick will be traded or not.

“If we’re going to trade the No. 1 choice overall we need what we call an accelerator,” Rodriguez said. “That would be a player that we believe is a starter at a more advanced or even a better level than what the No. 1 pick may project to be. Or we need a multiplier, and that would be some combination of assets that allows us to secure at least two players, whether that’s a starter and a pick, a player and an allocation or TAM money, two picks, whatever the case may be.”

Rodriguez spoke to the media for about 35 minutes and some other highlights are listed below. Stick with CSNChicago.com for a more in-depth preview ahead of Thursday’s draft.

- The coaching staff is nearly complete and that announcement is coming soon:

“We will look to make an announcement on the full coaching staff in about a week’s time. We are still finalizing one position, but the staff has been working together and dutifully so and we feel good about that.”

- On the lack of announcements with only 14 players on the current roster:

“I know announcements haven’t been publicized yet, but I wouldn’t want that to be misconstrued as there hasn’t been work conducted or results achieved.

“For sure, in an ideal situation you have 95 percent of your team in place by the first day of training camp, and oh by the way we may still be there. I don’t mean to suggest that we can’t get there or won’t get there, but we won’t use Jan. 25 [the first day of the Fire’s preseason] as the deadline.

“I don’t think the fans are frustrated. I think the fans are smart. We don’t conduct our business to win a day of positive PR. We conduct our business to win a championship. It’s more important to me that we remained disciplined with our process and we remain focused against our plan, and that we remain nimble as you react to some unforeseen circumstances or some opportunities that may arise. I think fans appreciate that. They appreciate it better when it all comes together. The process can be viewed as either boring or slow, but in the end no one is going to remember that we didn’t make an announcement on Jan. 11. They’re going to remember what our record was and how we performed so that’s what drives us.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.