Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
For better or worse, Chicago's transition into 2013 just got more complicated.
Pavel Pardo's retirement means the Chicago Fire are losing some leadership, experience, and just plain old gravitas in their midfield. Those categories are hard to measure. Indeed sometimes they are overrated. New Fire club members Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz may not be able to match Pardo directly in those departments but they aren't slouches there either.
One area Lindpere and Larentowicz can not match Pardo is connections built with Fire teammates in the 2012 season. If there is any truth to the value of having 'Carryover Minutes', Pardo's retirement makes the pool of players that Chicago can draw carryover minutes from in 2013 shallower.
There can be some long-term value here if the Mexican soccer legend was going to be injured off and on in 2013. Larentowicz is two years younger than Logan Pause while Lindpere is two months younger than the Fire captain from North Carolina. Head coach Frank Klopas appears to be most comfortable having a lineup that plays two strong central midfielders. Why not get the replacement process going as quickly as possible without having the risk of injury around in the case of 36 year-old Pardo?
Look at Lindpere & Larentowicz as Pause & Pardo 2.0. Before you know it, the team's main midfield backup will be named Liladana, we'll have a Guatemalan on the wing named Lippi and there will be a designated player the fans don't like named Leppe.
Great things could come of this lineup but MLS history suggests there will be some growing pains at least early on. I have a feeling that Lindpere and Larentowicz's familiarity with MLS adds an extra benefit. But it is one thing to scout Nyarko on defense and another to space him out and plan the perfect pass to his direction. To get idea of how big of a turnover the Fire face, let's take a look at the big picture.
Chicago's Stayings and Departures
Players staying for now in bold, players leaving are unbolded
At first glance, things look quite decent to very nice. Nine of the top 10 players in minutes played in 2012 are returning for the 2013 season. Pardo played 2,386 minutes last season. Joel Lindpere played one less minute clocking in at 2,385. Jeff Larentowicz played 2,779 minutes last year and has played at least 2,400 minutes every year in MLS since 2007. There's not much quality being lost. There might even be some improvement in the midfield.
In defense, it's more worrisome. Who is going to fill in for Dan Gargan's 1,754 minutes? Will we see Logan Pause get shifted to the swing defense role in favor of Lindpere and Larentowicz starting in midfield? I don't mind Pause taking a shift or two there but 1,754 minutes is 20 games worth. That's 57% of the season and far too much time at RB for Pause than I'd like to see. If reinforcements are not coming, one of Pause, Hunter Jumper, Steven Kinney, Michael Videira, or Tony Walls will have to emerge as the main option. This doesn't even get into the nightmare scenario where two of Gonzalo Segares, Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, and Austin Berry are unavailable.
Sebastian Grazzini's minutes are somewhat of a hybrid because the team typically played with one forward when he started. I don't mind Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald, and the other forwards filling in for his time.
An even bigger concern than defense is the void left by Marco Pappa's and Alvaro Fernandez's combined 2,558 minutes last year on the wing. That's good for almost 28.5 games or 83.5% of the MLS regular season. Alex should get a look and he might figure in the team's long-term plan. Daniel Paladini started in the central midfield in the place of the injured Pardo and after Klopas had tried Alex in central midfield prior. If Alex isn't in the plans for the wing, Klopas should move to trade him. I can't see him getting a lot of minutes with the way the roster is right now.
Someone who has been rumored to be traded is Dominic Oduro. This is puzzling because he seems like a perfect option to have both on the wing and as a striker. He already knows the team so it would be a shame if he and Klopas can't get over not seeing eye to eye on the amount of minutes he should be receiving.
Klopas has demonstrated major preferences for veteran players and for settling in with the same formation week in and week out. It will be interesting to see which preference he'll move away from if he isn't feeling comfortable with a starting XI that suits a 4-4-2. There's also nothing wrong with throwing out a different look to experiment or even just to throw an opponent for a loop. Again, Klopas hasn't demonstrated a sophistication for those kind of coaching abilities but one can hope.
If it's the group of the top 11 players he wants to play first, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 4-5-1 with Lindpere, Pause, and Larentowicz in the middle, Nyarko and Rolfe on the wings and MacDonald up top along with the regular 2012 defense back in place.
Klopas could use a 4-4-2 every week with the non-Nyarko wing position having the 'kitchen sink' thrown at. Everyone (Alex, Oduro, Corben Bone, Wells Thompson, Victor Pineda) gets a chance at locking down the wing spot until they don't meet Klopas' liking. It sounds chaotic but competition for starting spots is a positive thing. If nothing fits, hey, Alvaro Fernandez appears to be on schedule to return from this loan in July. Fernandez could be somewhat of an ace in the hole that way. Now the loan to the Qatari club may very well be a step ladder to getting rid of Fernandez. It could also be a way to collect some cash and at the same time work out some other players in the lineup all while keeping a reinforcement lined up if options B-through-Z fail.
Regardless of how pain-free some this transition could potentially be, the Fire's rate of turnover doesn't compare all that well league wide.
The Departure Chart
Sadly for Toronto FC fans, this is nothing new. The Canadian club has endured a turnstile approach to roster management since the beginning. It's a large part of why TFC has never made the playoffs in their 6 seasons of existence. Toronto is under new management (MLS experienced Kevin Payne) so the turnaround this time might be the last major upheaval for awhile. Colorado's head coach Oscar Pareja has blown up the core of the 2010 MLS Cup Championship squad after trying to win with them for a year. Portland's new head coach Caleb Porter is attempting to shape his new team that finished second to last in MLS. The New York Red Bulls enjoyed good success in 2012 but they also have new management coming into town.
That puts Columbus in some odd territory as they finished just 5 points behind the 3rd best team in MLS last year. They are also keeping their coach. Yet they are also experiencing heavy turnover. It's hard to gauge exactly what's going on with the yellow team, even for those who follow the club closely.
Fire fans shouldn't gleefully rub their hands over Columbus' problems. A 27% loss of 2012 minutes for Chicago is nothing to sneeze at. That figure will increase to 29.7% if Dominic Oduro is traded. The Fire only lost 23.5% of their minutes going from 2011 into 2012. It may seem odd that the team is at a more transitory state than they were a year ago but that's what the numbers suggest with the departure of Pavel Pardo. The main questions as Chicago starts pre-season are if those numbers are misleading and how quickly Frank Klopas can turn around yet another transition in his roster.