David Arshakyan

Fire and David Arshakyan mutually terminate contract

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USA TODAY

Fire and David Arshakyan mutually terminate contract

Once heralded as a potential diamond in the rough when he was signed in the summer of 2016, the Chicago Fire and forward David Arshakyan mutually agreed to terminate the Armenian player’s contract on Monday.

Arshakyan was initially signed upon the recommendation of coach Veljko Paunovic, who was credited with identifying the player. He signed on Aug. 3, 2016, less than two weeks before his 22nd birthday, from Lithuanian club FK Trakai.

The 6-foot-4 forward failed to score in nine games, three starts, in 2016 and saw his playing time diminish in 2017. Arshakyan made seven regular season appearances totaling 27 minutes. His 20-minutes sub appearance in the playoff defeat to the New York Red Bulls was his longest appearance of 2017. He finishes his Fire career without scoring a goal.

“I saw a couple of games that he played,” Paunovic said soon after Arshakyan’s arrival in 2016. “I found him very interesting in terms of his soccer qualities. Of course the profile he has, a big guy who can keep the ball, who can score goals, which is most important for a striker. The profile is something what we need.”

When the Fire picked up Arshakyan’s option this offseason it was seen as a surprise, but things have since changed. General manager Nelson Rodriguez gave a direct comment in the club’s press release about the transaction.

“Despite the best efforts of both sides, these past 16 months did not work out as either would have hoped. We wish David the best of luck as he continues his career,” Rodriguez said.

According to a club source, there was no buyout and the move will not make a hit on the Fire’s salary cap. Arshakyan’s departure will free up an international slot and clear up some cap room. He earned $178,850 in guaranteed compensation 2017, according to the MLS Players Union salary numbers.

The Fire are now somewhat thin at forward with Nemanja Nikolic and Luis Solignac the only healthy true forwards on the roster. Solignac players multiple roles in 2017, including playing on the wing. Michael de Leeuw is another option at forward, but is expected to miss the first few months of 2018 after tearing his ACL late in the 2017 regular season. Look for Rodriguez to add a forward, if only for depth, before the new season begins.

What Fire's option decisions mean for the rest of the offseason

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USA TODAY

What Fire's option decisions mean for the rest of the offseason

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.

Goalkeeper

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.

Fullbacks

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.

Centerbacks

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.

Central midfielders

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.

Wingers

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.

Forwards

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.

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Preseason wins don't necessarily translate to regular season wins, but the Chicago Fire haven't had much trouble racking up February wins in Florida.

The Fire made it 4-for-4 in the preseason with a 5-2 win against North American Soccer League foe Miami FC from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on Sunday.

The game featured some aesthetically pleasing goals, but the opener was a reminder that it's preseason and the players aren't in midseason form yet. A back pass from a Miami defender turned into a through ball for Luis Solignac. Solignac took the gift and scored uncontested with a slotted shot in the box in the third minute.

Miami evened things up in the 38th minute when Dylan Mares was left open on the left side of the box and scored with a low shot.

The Fire regained the lead with a penalty kick a few minutes later. A Brandon Vincent cross resulted in a handball in the box and John Goossens rifled the penalty into the upper 90.

Trialist Taylor Peay got the start at right back, his first appearance of the preseason. Three draft picks, Daniel Johnson, Brandt Bronico and Matej Dekovic, also started.

In the second half the Fire went with an entirely different lineup and the attack livened up. Arturo Alvarez kicked things off by cutting in to his left foot and scoring with a shot into the side netting in the 49th minute. A few minutes later the Fire piled on the pressure with David Accam getting free from his man and then setting up Nemanja Nikolic, whose shot was saved onto the post and back into play. The Fire came right back with a long shot from Juninho that forced a rebound that David Arshakyan tucked away.

The fifth goal was the best of the bunch. A 10-pass sequence with mostly one-touch passing and Drew Conner at the heart of the buildup led to Nemanja Nikolic centering a ball to David Accam, who scored into an open net.

Nikolic, Accam and Alvarez provided an immediate spark to the attack after a first half in which the Fire struggled to create chances from the run of play.

The game also featured the usage of the video replay system the league is using in select preseason matches in preparation for the system's use in the regular season. In the 71st minute the referee used the replay system to go back and call a penalty kick on a Michael Harrington foul. Goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, drafted by the Fire in the second round in January, saved the penalty kick, but Ariel Pedro Martinez was able to score on the rebound.

In other news, goalkeeper Matt Lampson has a sprained MCL. A spokesman for the Fire said he could return for the season opener. Jorge Bava got the start on Sunday and appears to be in line to begin the season at the Fire's No. 1 keeper.

On the live stream of the match former Fire TV analyst Kevin Egan said former Newcastle United right back Ryan Taylor, 32, is expected to join the Fire in camp as a trialist shortly.

The Fire's next preseason match is against USL side FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.

See gifs of the first two Fire goals and Arshakyan's second half rebound below: