Could this be the end of the Grazzini era in Chicago? We hardly knew you Sebastian...(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
The news is not good for Fire fans as it seems like the last few grains of sand in the Grazzini hourglass are running out. As most of us probably know, his contract is up and things are looking pretty dire in terms of the probability of his contract getting extended. While none of us want to lose him and I certainly don't want pre-Grazzini 2011 days to rear their ugly head again, we are about to find out what this team is made of. CAM's are not easy to find, especially one that mixes the skill and experience of Sebastian. Follow me after the break for a look at the situation the Fire are facing...
The writing is on the wall for the departure of Grazzini. While I have held out a secret hope that an 11th hour, last minute deal would get done, that last little flicker is about to go out. For anyone that watched Grazzini leave the field Sunday, there was no handshake or warm embrace between player and coach. I know that sometimes the heat of the moment causes players to leave the pitch in a huff if they are subbed before they are ready to depart the game. Sunday's display went beyond that. Sebastian went so far as to say something to Frank as he walked by him. While I don't know what was said, you don't have to stretch your imagination very far to ascertain that it probably wasn't a pleasantry.
Additionally, Anthony Zilis and Orrin Schwarz reported just this morning on Twitter that Grazzini was not available to talk to the media. All these signs are pointing towards an exit from the Chicago Fire, and it is a very sad one to say the least. First of all, I am sure most of you are wondering the same thing as I am: why? Andrew Hauptman keeps saying we have money to spend on the squad. Well, why not spend it on one of our best players that has proven his worth on the pitch for the Fire? Even if his asking price is a bit higher than we would like, doesn't it make sense to pay sure money for a know entity or splash cash on an unknown entity that could backfire in our faces (hello Federico Puppo and Nery Castillo)? Not to mention the hard feelings a situation like this can create. It's one thing to make a player leaving a club mad. But if the situation also creates hard feelings for players still on the club? A situation like this can cause a whole bunch of issues to permeate the locker room.
One of the big problems with the 2010 team was a lack of locker room cohesion. To me, many times in the season it felt like players weren't playing for each other but playing for themselves. Add to that the stories and reports that came out at various times of an unhappy locker room, and we all saw what happened. An unhappy team underachieved and the season overall turned into a disaster. The team that ended the season last year in fine form and the team that we have so far this year is far different. Players seem happy, the locker room seems to be a happy one, and even though the team has yet to catch Fire, we are in a much better spot now than we were at this point of the season last year. My concern is that the failure to extend a player that fits in well with the team and does a good job is going to send the wrong message to players and fans alike.
Apart from looking at the personal side of it, next we have to look at how it affects the product on the field. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, those of us that remember the team last year before Grazzini came do not want to go back to that form again. The 2 questions to be asked are: does the FO have a plan to replace Grazzini with a capable player? And, is there anyone on the team currently that can help fill the void left by Grazzini? Let's take a look at both of these issues a bit further.
It has been made known that Frank went on a scouting trip recently. The club is doing a fine job of keeping a lid on the details of where Frank was and who he was scouting. Some people think he may have been looking for the rumored striker the Fire are supposed to be in the market for. However, given our injury woes on the back line and the fact that Grazzini seems to be gone, and Frank could have been scouting for those types of players as well. As I am typing this, Orrin Schwarz again tweeted that Frank expects the Fire to make a signing during the window, which is really a pretty obvious confirmation to most of us. If Grazzini leaves, the team must have a plan in place for his replacement, whether it is from within or from a signing. Letting one of your best players go and not having a replacement plan is not a successful strategy for a team that wants to contend every year. This also does not paint the owner or FO in general in a very good light. Fire fans have had a rocky relationship in the Andrew Hauptman era so far, and actions like this doesn't help that any. Andrew has stated his commitment to the club, and keeping your best players around if at all possible is one way to show that commitment.
The other consideration is who can help on the current roster to fill this hole. The most popular consensus is now that Rolfe is back, rather than playing up top beside Oduro, he can instead drop back and play in a more withdrawn striker/creator role. He certainly has the tools capable to do this, as he showed Sunday against New York. However, given the fact that we are desperate for another legit goal scorer to step up beside Oduro, his ideal position is still up top in my opinion. Even if he does play back some, the fact that he is on the pitch makes the team better. He can still create and score from the withdrawn role so the team is much stronger for having him there, and that should help fill Grazzini's void some.
Another couple of players to look at are Rafael Robayo and newcomer Alex. Robayo is a versatile midfielder, but doesn't seem to fit into the mold that Grazzini has cast in his time with the Fire. Though he has had the chance to show what he can do, he is not a Grazzini and better in other roles than CAM. New signing Alex could also help fill the void. While I don't expect that he will get a start right away or even in the next few games, he could come on as a sub, which would likely allow Rolfe to move up top with Oduro and change the look of the team later in games. This would be especially nice in a close game where we need that offensive breakthrough to either come back from a deficit (of which we have played behind a lot this year) or to break a tie game. The only questions remaining is Alex. Can he be a Grazzini type player? Even though he has trained with the team in preseason, that is nothing like regular MLS play. Only time will tell whether Alex can help fill this role.
As can be seen, the Fire have a quandary on their hands. The win last week was a nice boost in confidence, especially with Rolfe healthy and Friedrich nearing return. A win vs. Columbus would really boost spirits and signal the fact that the Fire are edging closer to steady, good play on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, the Grazzini situation is casting a bit of doubt in an otherwise uplifting time. The next week or two should be interesting. I am still holding out a sliver of hope that both parties are posturing and a deal will get done. If not, the transfer window could get pretty crazy. We will see where the depth of the team is truly at if Sebastian leaves and a suitable replacement is not brought in. For all of our sakes, let's hope that is not the case.