There is still a long way to go, but the pieces are beginning to come together for the 2017 Chicago Fire.
Just days after acquiring striker Nemanja Nikolic, the Fire added another accomplished player to the roster in the form of Brazilian midfielder Juninho. The Fire acquired the former LA Galaxy midfielder on a one-year loan from Mexican club Tijuana with an option to buy.
Juninho, a three-time MLS All-Star, was subject to the league's allocation order. Atlanta has the top spot in that list, but passed and is reportedly holding out to get goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The Fire had to trade up to the No. 2 spot, which Minnesota had, in order to nab Juninho. The Fire sent a second round pick in the upcoming draft in January (No. 23 overall) and general allocation money to Minnesota to move up in the allocation order. The Fire swapped spots in the allocation order, meaning Minnesota moves back to No. 2 while the Fire head to the back of the line after using the allocation spot to acquire Juninho.
Juninho, who turns 28 in January, is a six-year MLS veteran. He won three MLS Cups with the Galaxy in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and was an All-Star in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
“Going into this offseason, we set our intentions on identifying game-changing players with championship experience along the spine of our line-up,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the club's press release. “Including the signing of Nemanja Nikolic, we’ve acquired two players whom attracted significant interest from other clubs worldwide."
Juninho left the Galaxy after the 2015 season to join Tijuana in Liga MX. He scored two goals and had two assists in 24 appearances with Tijuana.
Rodriguez spoke about getting "a boss" in the midfield after the club signed Nikolic. Juninho fits that profile as a player who could line up next to Matt Polster in coach Veljko Paunovic's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. The Fire likely still need more creative ability in midfield, but Juninho should help a team that was last in the league in possession in 2016.
Juninho's salary will be above MLS' Designated Player threshold, but his cap hit can be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money. That means the Fire still have an available DP slot if they are able to land another big money signing. Nikolic and David Accam are the Fire's two DPs currently.
Juninho has a green card which means he will not take up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire currently have six of the available eight international spots filled.