With the Fire having played 17 MLS matches this season, they are officially at the halfway point of the 34-game 2012 season.
Perhaps if we were having this discussion four games ago, it would sound a whole lot different. But since a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution back on June 2, the Fire have been on a tear, winning three matches and drawing one against the top 6 clubs in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are five points out of first place, and are now being considered as one of the rising teams in the league.
Still, there are lingering questions. Earlier in the season, it seemed like anytime the Fire were on the verge on breaking through, there was a setback loss right around the corner (Portland and Columbus away in May both stick out in my mind)
The respective situations surrounding midfielders Sebastian Grazzini and Marco Pappa don't seem to have been completely settled. Defender Cory Gibbs injured his knee during training back in April and may not see the field again this season. Also on the backline, it isn't clear as to whether German international Arne Friedrich has the fitness to start every match. And the forward situation after Dominic Oduro? Well, it's not perfect by any stretch.
Two of the club's off-season signings in midfielder Rafael Robayo and striker Federico Puppo were brought in to provide some more depth and challenge for starting spots, but to varying degrees, they haven't delivered. Depth was supposed to be one of the club's strong spots this year, but it appears the club is currently in a weaker position than they were last year.
With all that being said, the Fire do have some talent on the bench and potentially available through the transfer window. With a grueling second half of the MLS season ahead, here are five players who haven't seen a whole lot of playing time in the first half, but could make an impact in the second half of the season and help the Fire reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Well, this one is starting to look like a done deal. The Dutch striker will reportedly join the Men in Red from Germinal Beerschot of the Belgium first-division. His scoring record at Beerschot (great name, by the way) is 15 goals in 82 appearances. Not bad, I suppose. Hopefully Fire head coach Frank Klopas has had the opportunity to see MacDonald in person and is confident in his ability. It would seem logical that he would start out as a starting super-sub with the potentially to crack the Starting XI if he does REALLY well.
And if MacDonald doesn't make an immediate impact, it's possible the attacking sub role could fall back to...
Remember this guy? The Israeli U-21 international made 28 appearances during the 2011 season, 26 of which came off the bench, adding two goals and two assists. This season though, Barouch has only made seven appearances, one of which came in a starting role.
Last season, Barouch provided a spark off the bench that could add a new dimension to the Fire offense. At 6'2", Barouch is still the Fire's tallest striker. Will he have more opportunities in the second half of the 2012 season?
Well, the wait is over. After signing for the club in Late April, he was officially added to the active roster on June 27. He ahs already played as a substitute in two matches, debuting against Sporting KC on Friday and getting some playing time against Houston on Tuesday as well.
While it's obviously early, Alex seems to have impressed. He showed off some impressive footwork in the SKC match and showed some pace against the Dynamo. With the Grazzini and Pappa sagas appearing to never end, there should be numerous opportunities for Alex to shine.
According to the MLS Player Compensation numbers released in May, Bone was ranked as the 8th highest-paid player by 2012 Guaranteed Compensation at $161,200. For that reason, I was surprised to see he wasn't one of the players the Fire jettisoned in addition to defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and forward Kheli Dube before June 30.
After making seven regular season starts in the 2011 season, most of them occurring early in the season, Bone has played exactly ONE minute during the 2012 season (coming on as a sub in the Brimstone Cup match against Dallas back in May).
So has the 23-year-old Bone fallen completely off the radar? Again, it seems odd that the Fire would hang on to him (and his high-priced contract) unless they saw some value. Unless he can make an impact in the latter half of the season though, it would seem Bone is destined to play in a lower-level league, either in one of the US' lower divisions or overseas when next season rolls around.
If you're a more recent Fire fan, it's possible you've never even heard of Kinney. The Fire drafted the Elon University defender with the 45th pick in the 2010 SuperDraft, and he made 10 starts in his rookie season.
Kinney suffered an Achilles injury in the final match of the 2010 season. After initially hoping to make it back at some point during the 2011 season, Kinney has yet to play since then. Chicago Tribune reporter Jack McCarthy reached out to Kinney earlier in June, and it appears the defender is closer to a return.
A Kinney return would be a welcome addition to a club whose back-line has been tested throughout the season. After trading Watson-Siriboe to Real Salt Lake, an injury to Friedrich, Jalil Anibaba or Austin Berry would likely mean that the club would be down to 2012 Supplemental Draft pick Tony Walls or veteran Michael Videira before looking for reinforcements elsewhere.
What does everyone else think? Feel free to leave a comment below if you think there's a current player we missed or if the club should continue to find other players through the summer transfer window.