I figured this would be a good call to be on with all the debate/discussion going on in regards to the Duka/Oduro deal. Other than myself, some other well known Chicago writers were on the call. Jeff Krause, Orrin Schwarz, Guillermo Rivera, and Anthony Zilis were a few others on the call. I was not able to record the call so I will be paraphrasing but I got plenty of good notes. Here's what Frank shared with us, with my own thoughts sprinkled in:
-First off, the Fire play Chivas USA tomorrow at 1:30 pm CST. While we have gotten used to a stream the first two games, this game will only have audio available. Jeff Crandall did tweet he is hopefully for a stream for the first team game against San Jose. If we are able to embed the audio on HTIOT, we certainly will so make sure you check back tomorrow with us. Friedrich, Nyarko, and Duka will not play, but should feature in some capacity against San Jose.
-The first question asked what Dilly Duka will bring to the team and how he would be used. Frank was complimentary of him as expected, saying that he can play either wing and he is a dynamic player that is good off the dribble. He is young, talented, and has a lot of room for growth/development.
In my own words, this is exactly why we got Duka. It sounded as if Frank is planning on him being the left winger we need, while being able to provide depth behind Nyarko in the even he needs rest or gets injured. Don't forget, it's not only MLS play we have to plan for. The Fire normally go deep into the US Open Cup competition, so having true wing depth is a boon. And the fact that Duka can play either wing is huge in my opinion. Though most of us have focused on the left wing picture the past few days, don't forget there is a lack of quality behind Patty. We all know what happened when Grazzini went down and we had no answer for that. With Duka, this isn't as much of a problem. Plus we should have some other capable left wingers (NOT Wells Thompson) that can step in should the Fire need Duka on the right. Assuming Duka can play up to his potential, this is a good get folks.
-Frank was then asked about how we would compensate for the loss of Oduro in terms of speed and tools. Klopas mentioned the addition of Santos helping the team, as well as the team speed being good all around even without Dominic.
While I agree we still have good pace, it's clear that we have lost a bit in terms of speed. There are few in the league that can match Oduro's pace. While it would have been nice to have him off the bench, there is no use lamenting it now as the trade is a done deal. We still have some quick players, and the loss of Oduro's speed is somewhat accurately offset when you throw into the equation all the missed scoring chances. I think overall this deal will work out well for us and likely help Columbus as well (unfortunately).
-The next questions relates to Dilly adding depth opposite Nyarko on the left wing. Specifically, Frank was asked if he thought this would help take pressure off Nyarko. Frank first mentioned Flaco moving on, and that we needed to address that, which we have helped do with the addition of Dilly. Frank added that he liked our look up the middle and thought we were set there. He then mentioned that the team was still looking to add a striker, as many Fire fans have been asking about lately. Frank then said he thought we were now good on the left side of midfield.
I took a couple of things away here. First, to me, I don't see Flaco coming bck at all this summer. Short of some major crisis or massive injuries, I think Flaco's days in Chicago are over. Frank simply said he "was gone", not out on loan for now, could return, etc. Maybe I am reading into things but if I was a betting man (which fortunately I am) I would put good money on Flaco never pulling on a Quaker Fire jersey again.
As for the midfield picture, it comes down to Alex, Duka, and King for the left. I think, despite shocking pre-season play, Duka is our starter on the left win on March 2nd. In terms of the striker news, that is something we all want to hear. While we have some very good options now, depth is still a question mark. The team seems to be looking pretty actively to find another forward. If we can find the right player and deal, I would think something could happen very soon (i.e. still in the pre-season).
As I have stated a few times on HTIOT, if we do add a forward, I think it's likely to be a current MLS player. While Frank did say they were looking both domestically and abroad, I can't see any big name signings until the winter. Klopas did mention that the summer window is better for international players since they are in their off-season, making it easier for players to move. Contracts run out in the summer, and it would make more sense to make a splashy signing then. That is, if we ever spend that much on a forward.
-The next question addressed trying to find a striker as well, but a name was put out there that I haven't ever seriously considered- Alex. Frank mentioned that he thinks he could play at forward because he is good in the final 18, and he has some experience up top from his Europe days. He thinks Alex having a full pre-season will really help him develop and contribute even more in 2013. Frank again iterated his confidence in who we have now, even if we don't make any other additions this pre-season.
For me, the Alex discussion caught me a bit by surprise. We all look at him as possibly a left wing option, and mostly a CAM option. While some fans have already given up n him, I would argue he hasn't had a full chance to shine yet. I do question his use at forward just because it is a big question mark. I don't know about his striker forays in Europe, and we haven't seen that look deployed yet by the Men in Red. While Alex could be useful in that role, we just don't know enough yet to be able to say anything with much certainty. If Frank is thinking about a backup forward role for him (at least at times), I would like to see this tried in pre-season so we have an idea if this is a viable option or not. If Alex can fill in behind out main options, it's again a boon for the Men in Red. A guy that can provide depth at forward, CAM, and maybe even wing? Yes please. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.
If anything, i think that this idea will be more likely to come to fruition if the Fire can't fin the right deal before the season starts. In this scenario, Alex could help us get by until the summer window when we could look to make a bigger move. I am kind of intrigued to see Frank use Alex up top this pre-season. The question is, will he?
-Frank was then asked if the Dilly situation in Columbus (the messy exit) was concerning to him at all. he mentioned that the team obviously did their homework and spent time talking with him. Klopas was crystal clear about his and the club's expectations. He also talked others around the league about Dilly, and found that between that info and the talks with Duka himself, a successful fit in Chicago was found. It had to make sense in the team's budget, and it did. Frank praised Dilly's hard work, competitiveness, and desire to win. He thought some things might have been blown a bit out of proportion in regards to the situation in Columbus.
For me, this was pretty straight forward. Frank is a smart guy and the team is not going to bring Duka aboard if there is a lot of negative baggage. I wouldn't be too concerned that there will be issues in Chicago. I also think that the Crew have eaten some of Duka's cost, which would have been pretty high to us. It's hard to figure this salary cap stuff out in MLS with all the secrecy, but I don't think the Fire would have brought him on at full cost. So a discounted Duka makes the deal even better for the Men in Red.
-Frank was then asked about the team's plans for Rogers rights. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot forthcoming. Klopas emphasized that he was indeed out of contract now, which we all knew. The team is trying to get in contact with him, and have contacted Leeds United to help with that process (his last club). Frank mentioned him as a valuable asset, and a good player. It's nice for the team to have the option to bring him aboard or trade his rights to improve the team.
This was a pretty vanilla answer. This is mostly because the team doesn't seem to have contacted him yet. It's hard to gauge the situation and options until you can actually talk to the player. So contact with him is the most important thing right now. I still see the chance of him actually playing for us is very small. I just hope the situation is resolved sooner rather than later. It would help us, and Rogers can't have very many options outside of MLS right now. If he wants to keep playing soccer (and he will at age 25), I think his best option is to come back to MLS.
-Next, Guillermo Rivera asked about the Fire's aggressive approach this off-season in adding veteran MLS players (whether or not Rogers joins us). Frank again expressed his confidence in the team he has built this off-season. He then re-iterated the team wanting to bring in a "difference maker" at forward now or in the summer. He also talked a bit about the 2nd phase of camp. Klopas emphasized that starters will get 40-65 minutes, and the focus is on tactics and building fitness. To sum it up, the 1st phase was about looking at the newer guys. Now we focus on formations, tactis, and getting everyone in shape and on the same page.
It was nice to hear Frank again talk about the focus on forward. The fact that he mentioned a difference maker led me to believe they are looking at adding a big name, and not just for depth. As always, the question is when will that "Keane-Like Money" actually be spent? If we can add a legitimate forward piece I can't see very many weaknesses at all with this team. Maybe a pinch of back line depth but other than that there is no reason to think we can't be the favorites in the East.
-For my questions, I took an idea from our own Adam Merges. he wanted to know if the team has goals, and if they make them widely known. Frank said the main goals in pre-season are to make sure every phase is successful. That means getting looks at players early on, working on improving speed of play and decision making as the season progresses, and getting tactics and organizations down. In terms of regular season goals, the team sits down with the players and makes goals together. Obvious goals like doing better than last year are always on the top of the list. Frank declined to mention any other specific goals other than to say they are internal. So Adam, to answer your questions, yes there are goals. Anything beyond the obvious stays behind closed doors it sounds like.
-I also asked about Rogers and how confident Frank was that he could be persuaded back to MLS either with us or someone else. Again, it's hard to gauge that now since Frank hasn't really talked to him yet. We definitely can get something out of his rights.
It sounded like Frank was pretty confident of getting some good value for Rogers. While he did mention he could be on the team, I think Frank will be looking to wheel and deal. The main concern has been what happens if Rogers decides to not come back to MLS? While we hold his rights whether or not he comes back this year, it would be nice to get some quick, turnaround value this year. As I have said, I can't see the Fire asking for his rights if it was a crap shoot whether or not he would ever come back.
-Frank was then asked about our draft pick, Yazid Atouba and what his thoughts were. Frank said he was young, and very good with the ball at his feet. However, he needs to improve his discipline, and word on things like off the ball movement and tactics. Klopas also mentioned he needs to get stronger but is confident because he does have a hard work ethic,
I would expect Tony Jouaux (Fire strength and conditioning coach) to be busy with Atouba as he isn't the biggest guy. Frank is impressed with him, but Atouba clearly has things to work on according to Frank. This is to be expected for a couple of reasons. First, he is very raw, as his scouting reports stated. The talent is clearly there without a doubt. His success in MLS as a Fire player will hinge on him being able to improve and employ the ares of concern Frank listed above. While it's way too early to tell, his play in the first two pre-season games certainly hasn't hurt his cause to win a roster spot.
-The final question was Frank's thoughts on Sean Johnson making the USMNT Hex squad. As expected, he said it was a great thing, and he will get some quality training/learning with the team.
Pretty standard answer here, nothing to see. Move along...
Finally, Brendan Hannan was asked about an updated list of trailists still in camp before the call ended. He said one should come out yet later today, so keep an eye out for that. We will post it up on HTIOT once it comes across. While I can't guarantee the other "mystery trialist" will be named, at least we will have an idea of which players still have a good, sporting chance to make the team out of camp.