To start off, it must be noted that the Men in Red have gotten better in just the past week, pulling off the Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee deals. While the window is not yet here, it was clear the club needed a shake up to try to somehow get things going. While the hill is still steep to get back in the fight for the playoffs, if the Fire can have a successful transfer window, might they have a late season run in them (as in 2011)?
After going through what can be called the worst start to a season in the recent history of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, the Fire must right the ship in order to compete for both the MLS Cup and US Open Cup. With 8 points through the first 11 games in 2013 it is the team's least amount of points to start the season in the last 7 years. Comparing stats, the Men in Red tallied 18 points in 2012, 9 points in 2011 (also known as the season of draws), 14 points in 2010, 21 points in 2009, 19 points in 2008, and 14 points in 2007. The Fire, since 2007, have only made the playoffs when scoring less than 15 points through the first 11 games one time, and that was in 2007 when there were only 13 teams in the league. The powers that be have some decisions to still make with the direction of this team in order to attempt to make the playoffs in 2013. From possible coaching changes to players that are under performing and the possibility of bringing in players that this teams needs, I'll run through a few of the options that I think the Fire have and what I think would be best road to take.
Option #1- Fire Frank Klopas and replace him with another coach mid-season
Unless the front office already has a replacement in mind that can take the players on this team and change the way they play, I think this is the most unlikely choice. When Frank took over for Carlos De Los Cobos back in May of 2011, things worked out for him as the Fire almost snagged a playoff spot. If the powers that be want to replace Klopas I can guarantee you that the next coach that comes in will want his own reinforcements. Right now the Fire are in no position to promise any coach that comes in players that they would want due to cap situation problems. That's a whole other story though. The most likely time when the Front Office would actually consider getting rid of Klopas is after the season is over. This way if they bring someone in that wants to put their own stamp on the team, they will have the off season to bring in players and release players they don't want.
Option #2- Keep the current roster and coaching staff for the rest of the season no matter the outcome and give it another rebuild for the 2014 season
I say this because there are a few contracts on the books that expire at the end of the season. For example Alvaro Fernandez, Sherjill Macdonald, and Joel Lindpere's contracts all end at the close of the season. In Flaco's case, his loan ends in June and if we can't find another team to take him on loan again he will come back to the Fire and go back on the books. If this happens then we will not have any room to make any moves. So the option of just riding the season out may look good to the front office so they don't have to spend more money than they already are. I could see this happening but personally I don't think this is a good choice.
Option #3- Trying to sign a couple impact players that can help turn this team around not only this season but will be around to help for the next couple of campaigns as well
Now this is the option that I like the most. The tricky thing is trying to work around the cap. I know that with picking up Mike Magee this past week in exchange for Robbie Rogers rights, there may not be any room left under the cap for this to happen. Also, with the acquisition of Bakary Soumare there are only 2 spots on the field that would need to be filled by incoming players. Those spots are center attacking midfield and striker. The Fire have not had a real striker in years and have tried players from MacDonald to Puppo and even Christian Nazarit to fill that striker void. With the CAM position, the Fire have not had one since Sebastian Grazzini left last summer. Here are a few players that I would look at to fill those voids if I were the man in charge:
- Carlton Cole- 29 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 2 goals and 1 assist in 25 appearances for West Ham United. Has all of the necessary physical attributes to play in MLS. Can play with his back to goal and also has a quick release of a shot. He could be a 10+ goal scorer in this league and at only 29 years old he has at least 5 years left in the tank.
- Mike Hanke- 29 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 6 goals and 2 assists in 41 appearances for Borrusia Monchengladbach. Quick striker that has the ability to finish. Capped by the German National Team 12 times, the speedy German knows how to make the runs into space and has a powerful shot.
- Javier Saviola- 31 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 8 goals and 2 assists in 35 appearances for Malaga. The Argentine is coming off a decent season with Malaga, and he has already been linked to MLS. He can be a top striker in the league and probably be one of the league's best players. At 31 years old he may have a few good years left but his immediate impact could be great.
- Ryan Babel- 26 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 5 goals in 20 appearances for Ajax. Yes I know, its Ryan Babel. But only being 26 years old he could be a steal. A change in scenery could get him back on track as he has played in England, Germany, and Holland. This would be an interesting pick up for any MLS team.
- Ebi Smolarek- 32 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 3 goals in 17 appearances for Jagellonia Balystok. Has been linked with the Fire in the past, the Polish forward has seemed to lose a step over the past few years and has not had the goal production that he once enjoyed. If he could be had for less than DP money he could be a valuable piece for at least a couple more years.
- Aldo de Nigris- 29 years old. In 2013 he had 8 goals in 19 appearances for Monterrey. The Mexican international who has been the partner for Humberto Suazo at Monterrey, has enjoyed a few productive years but is seemingly being pushed out of Monterrey. With the signing of Dorlan Pabon and Suazo signing a long term contract, de Nigris will possibly be looking for a new team. Chicago could be the perfect fit for a player like de Nigris.
- Florent Malouda- 32 years old. In 2012-2013 only had 3 appearances for Chelsea. Maybe a little too old and has not played significant minutes over the past year, he still has the skills to be a player that can create in MLS. Although he likes to play on the outside as a winger, I can see him slotting right behind a striker on any MLS team in order to create some offense.
- Thomas Hitzlsperger- 31 years old. In 2012-2013 only had 9 appearances for Everton. The "German Hammer" as I have heard him called before when he was playing with Aston Villa and West Ham, can be one of those dominating presences in the center of the park. Not your typical CAM but he could control the center of the midfield in MLS with his physical presence and his ability to read the game. He would definitely be a great pick up for less than DP money.
- Joaquin- 31 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 8 goals and 5 assists in 40 appearances for Malaga. Coming off a decent season the Spaniard will be looking for a new team as Malaga is cash strapped. He could be the center piece of midfield for at least 4 years and should be looked at. In the end though I think he will probably stay in Spain.
- Sebastian Mila- 30 years old. In 2012-2013 he had 8 goals and 19 assists for Śląsk Wrocław. The Polish midfielder is coming off one heck of a season is currently out of contract. There should be no reason why he doesn't find another team where he can be the heart of the club. With 8 goals and 19 assists that is pretty impressive no matter what league you play in. And the Fire have been linked to Mila multiple times.
I would love to see the Fire go with option #3. There would be no sense in getting rid of Klopas right now. Instead they should try to give him more pieces to use like they did in 2011 and 2012. How they get the room under the cap in order to do this it is up to them to figure out but they should at least try to push for a playoff spot rather than pack it in for 2013.
Even if the team ends up missing the playoffs this season, now is the time to get the players we want, rather than waiting until July of 2014 in order to revisit this issue again. My personal forward preference would be a move for Hanke, Saviola, or de Nigris in order to fill the striker spot. The team should then make a serious run Mila to finally fill that wanting CAM spot.
What about you, the reader? What would you like to see happen with this team? Am I missing any big names that are out there that you think would be a good fit for this team as well?