There are plenty of lists around this time of year, both recapping 2015 and looking ahead to 2016.
Fans of the Chicago Fire may not want to revisit 2015, but there also isn’t enough known about the 2016 version of the club to make a proper look ahead to the season.
[RELATED - Fire GM Rodriguez denies Accam to Stoke rumors]
However, things will take shape quickly since the Fire will report for entrance physicals on Jan. 24 and media day is a day later. Compare that to now when the club has just 15 players under contract and the only player additions the club have made so far are homegrown signings Joey Calistri and Drew Conner, who both seem more likely to go out on loan than regularly crack the starting 11.
All this means that January figures to be a very busy month for general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic in the front office. With that in mind, here’s a list of storylines for Fire fans to follow in next few weeks.
1. Will David Accam jump to Europe?
The Fire winger has been training with Premier League club Stoke City during the MLS offseason and rumors started to spread of a possible move for Accam. Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez shot down those rumors saying, “We’ve had no discussions at all with Stoke or any other team for the transfer of his services.”
Any move would have to wait until after the January transfer window opens in England, but of course that’s not far away now. After leading the Fire with 10 goals in 2015, keeping him at Toyota Park would be a big boost to the 2016 season.
2. What will the Fire do with the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft?
One of the most important moves in the Fire’s offseason will be what they do with the top pick in the draft on Jan. 14. The Generation adidas class, which is comprised of college early-entrants, has still yet to take shape and a number of the top rated players in the draft are expected to be in that group. Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was reportedly the first player to sign a Generation adidas contract, but the Fire likely won’t be looking at a goalkeeper at No. 1.
Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro is a more likely possibility and mock drafts from Ives Galarcep and Top Drawer Soccer have the Fire taking Yaro. The junior has received All-American honors in all three years of college, including being named Top Drawer Soccer’s Player of the Year as a sophomore. He has yet to sign with MLS and could even go abroad.
Rodriguez seemed to imply that the Fire are looking at underclassmen.
“There are several high quality players that we expect to be in the draft,” he said. “We say it that way because the league has not yet announced the signings of certain players, but if those signings occur as we expect than we think there are some really good players at the top end.”
3. Where’s the rest of the team?
After passing in the waiver draft and both stages of the re-entry draft, the only player additions the Fire have made are the two homegrown signings. The Fire are one of eight MLS teams that have yet to add a veteran player in the offseason and only the Philadelphia Union have fewer players under contract (13).
There are many openings to fill, but at least in regards to defenders it appears the team is looking abroad.
“We created a plan for ourselves and have been very disciplined in following that plan,” Rodriguez said. “Part of that plan has as a priority central defense. We did not feel that there were existing available solutions within the league that addressed that priority to the level that we feel we wanted to be satisfied. Our efforts in that regard have focused outside of the league.”
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As for any personnel moves, Rodriguez said movement should start up soon after the New Year.
“We may tend to be more patient, or some might say slower, than other teams, but we accept that as the matter in which we want to conduct our business,” he said. “As we get into the New Year we’ll start to make public some of the transactions that we finalize.”
4. Do the Fire still have a chance to retain Mike Magee?
The 2013 MVP is arguably the prize of the league’s first-ever free agency class and there hasn’t been much news on his new destination. Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman opened the free agency period by tweeting a recruiting pitch to him and fellow free agent Justin Mapp. Mapp already signed with SKC. Since then, a Yahoo Sports report stated the Fire, SKC, Vancouver and the Los Angeles Galaxy are the four favorites to sign Magee.
5. Will Sean Johnson get another U.S. call-up?
The U.S. Men’s National Team is set for its annual January camp, with games against Iceland and Canada. With MLS in its offseason and most European clubs playing during this period, the team is expected to be largely domestically based. That means Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson should have a decent chance of being called in. In addition, a U-23 group will be called in to prep for that group’s Olympic qualifying playoff in March against Colombia. Fire midfielder Matt Polster figures to be included.