The first significant moves of the Chicago Fire's offseason were announced on Wednesday with the club picking up options on nine players.
The most notable name among the nine players is goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Johnson is now set to return for his eighth season in Chicago despite starting the 2016 season as the No. 2 behind Matt Lampson. It appears the two will again fight it out for the starting spot as Lampson also had his option picked up.
Midfielder Arturo Alvarez was the only other veteran player to have his option picked up. Alvarez, 31, had five goals and a team-high nine assists in 2016.
The other six players who had their options exercised were rookies or second-year players. Four rookies, first-round draft picks Jonathan Campbell and Brandon Vincent and homegrown players Joey Calistri and Drew Conner also got picked up in addition to second-year players Matt Polster and Patrick Doody, who is also a homegrown.
Those nine players join eight players who were already guaranteed for the 2017 season. Those eight are David Accam, David Arshakyan, Michael de Leeuw, Collin Fernandez, John Goossens, Michael Harrington, Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira.
Adding those together gives the Fire 17 players currently under contract for 2017. Last year, the Fire had 13 under contract after picking up and declining options and nine of those began the 2016 season with the Fire.
An extra wrinkle to this Major League Soccer offseason is the expansion draft for Minnesota and Atlanta. The Fire will be able to protect 11 players and each expansion team will select five players each. Each existing MLS team can only lose up to one player from the expansion draft. This means the Fire could still lose one of these 17 players currently under contract without receiving compensation. The expansion draft is set for Dec. 13 while the list of protected players will be released a day before.
Nine more players had options declined: Razvan Cocis, Eric Gehrig, Nick LaBrocca, Patrick McLain, Alex Morrell, Rodrigo Ramos, Michael Stephens, Luis Solignac and Khaly Thiam. Cocis, 33, had his option declined a year ago and renegotiated to sign for a lower contract amount than his option was set for. LaBrocca joined the Fire as one of the league's first free agents. He will become a free agent again. Gehrig and Stephens are eligible for the league's re-entry process.
Ramos and Thiam were with the Fire on loan and had options to buy. The Fire may still retain them by renegotiating with their clubs. Coritiba in Brazil holds Ramos' rights while Thiam is under contract with MTK in Hungary.
"We have made decisions that we believe give us maximum flexibility as we execute our plan for the next phase of our roster construction,” said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez in a statement released by the club. “The men whose contracts we did not exercise have given their all to the club and our city. We sincerely hope that they are successful in their respective next opportunity and we are thankful for the commitment they demonstrated on behalf of Chicago Fire SC.”