Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez hints at potential summer moves

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez hints at potential summer moves

Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez gave some rain delay theater to some members of the media during Wednesday’s weather delay at Toyota Park. Rodriguez gave updates on where the team stands and what might happen in the current transfer window.

First, he said the team could end up being more active in this transfer window than originally planned. The later than hoped arrival of Michael de Leeuw and the departure of Gilberto have changed things since Rodriguez said the Fire wouldn’t be active in this summer window.

“We had some targets that we had identified for January and we are looking to see if we can accelerate any of those targets,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a little trickier because some of the clubs we’ve spoken to, we’ve spoken to on the basis of January. Do they have enough time to find a reinforcement if they make the move with us? The second thing that we’re trying to do is look within the league. I don’t want to say we’ve had advanced discussions, but we’ve had lengthy discussions on a few players within the league to see if we can reinforce the squad that way.”

Rodriguez said in some ways he prefers to acquire players from within Major League Soccer because of their familiarity with the league. He described those players as “potential starters” for the Fire.

[SHOP: Buy your own Fire jersey here]

As he has said before, Rodriguez talked about the team’s need for a “bigger personality.” He cited de Leeuw’s competitiveness as something that goes along with that, but believes the Fire need more in that area.

As for the big question of the moment, the team’s open Designated Player spot, Rodriguez said it was possible the team could add a DP before the end of the season.

“If and when we find the right match, my answer is yes,” Rodriguez said. “I think one of the nice things that we have right now is that ability to strike with budget space, allocation, TAM (targeted allocation money), DP slot, international slot. Everything is available to us that if we find the right player, the right circumstance and if it fits in this window we can do it if we choose to.”

Rodriguez said a lot of the players from outside MLS the Fire are looking at have contracts that would expire in a year. Those players would have had only six months left on their contracts in the MLS offseason in January, meaning that transfer window would have been the last window for the current clubs to get anything in return for them before the contract expires.

As for what position the Fire need, Rodriguez mentioned a playmaker type is high on the list.

“I do believe that we need another provider in midfield,” Rodriguez said. “We’re also looking for a midfielder who creates and scores goals. Both. Those tend to be more expensive, those tend to be harder to get but I think that that is a piece that would really accelerate our improvement as a team if we could find it.”

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.