Judgment day has come for a number of Fire players with the team announcing its decisions on contract options for the 2018 season.
In addition to the nine players that were guaranteed for 2018, the Fire picked up options on 11 players and declined eight others. There are some surprises in the list and they give some tells as to what lies ahead in the Fire’s offseason.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown to show what needs the Fire have before things will start to pick up in terms of player movement.
Guaranteed for 2018: Matt Lampson
Options exercised: Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland
Option declined: Richard Sanchez
Lampson hit a performance trigger late in the 2017 season to lock him in for 2018. He will be joined by Bava, who began the season as the starter until he was replaced by Lampson in May and then missed the rest of the season due to an elbow injury, and Cleveland, whose only playing time in his rookie season came in the USL.
The Fire’s press release states that the team is still negotiating with Sanchez. That is surprising considering most teams don’t keep four goalkeepers. When the 36-year-old Bava was out for the year, Sanchez was brought in as additional depth and he made two starts. Seeing Bava picked up, considering he brings a bigger cap hit than Sanchez and takes up an international spot, is definitely one of the biggest surprises.
Fans looking for an upgrade at the goalkeeper position may have to wait because it looks like general manager Nelson Rodriguez is going with the status quo.
Guaranteed for 2018: Jorge Corrales
Options exercised: Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent, Drew Conner
Options declined: Patrick Doody, Michael Harrington
No major surprises here. Once Corrales was signed as an emergency backup when the Fire were ravaged with injuries at the position and it was known that he was guaranteed for 2018, Doody’s future was brought into question. Corrales will likely become Vincent’s backup at left back.
Conner can back up Polster at right back while also adding depth in central midfield. His versatility may be why he had his option picked up.
Guaranteed for 2018: Johan Kappelhof, Christian Dean
Option exercised: Jonathan Campbell
Option declined: Matej Dekovic
Out of contract: Joao Meira
Meira’s departure was the first bit of news for the offseason and Campbell returning was a near-lock. Dean will be coming off a major injury so depth at this position will be a major need, but homegrown prospect Grant Lillard, an Indiana senior and one of 15 Hermann Trophy semifinalists (college soccer’s version of the Heisman), could fill that need.
Guaranteed for 2018: Djordje Mihailovic
Options exercised: Dax McCarty, Brandt Bronico, Drew Conner
Options declined: Collin Fernandez, Juninho (loan)
Out of contract: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Negotiations with Schweinsteiger are still taking place so this doesn’t mean anything yet. If anything, not picking up Juninho’s loan may be a good sign that the Fire believe they can retain the German.
Juninho had a big cap hit and did not play up to that level in 2017. He was a useful fill-in when Schweinsteiger was hurt or when McCarty was on national team duty. If Schweinsteiger does not return, this position should become the top priority of the offseason.
Bronico only played four matches totaling 53 minutes so it’s a bit surprising the third-round pick was retained.
Fernandez was the longest tenured player on the Fire, having signed as a homegrown in Aug. 2014. He will be cut loose at just 20 years old after having a solid season while on loan with Tulsa in the USL.
Depth at this position will also be of need with Mihailovic, as well as Michael de Leeuw, being out for the first part of 2018 as they both recover from ACL surgery. North Carolina sophomore Cam Lindley, another Hermann semifinalist and one of just two underclassmen in that group, could help fill that need as a homegrown if the Fire can lock him up.
Guaranteed for 2018: David Accam, Luis Solignac
Options exercised: Arturo Alvarez, Daniel Johnson
Options declined: John Goossens, Joey Calistri
The surprise of this group is seeing Calistri go after he showed progress in the USL. The homegrown player from Deerfield had nine goals and six assists in 32 games for Tulsa.
Goossens showed talent in his time with the Fire, but couldn’t stay healthy. His ankle injury suffered in the 2017 season opener could end up being a career ender for the 28-year-old.
Accam and Polster are the only remaining members of the 2015 team.
Guaranteed for 2018: Nemanja Nikolic, Michael de Leeuw
Option exercised: David Arshakyan
Don’t expect anything to change at this position with all the players coming back. Arshakyan’s return is a surprise considering he takes up an international spot and played only 27 minutes in the MLS regular season in 2017.
With the departures of Meira, Goossens and Dekovic, the Fire have seven internationals if Schweinsteiger returns, leaving one open spot.