I wrote a few months ago about the Evil Box - a childhood toy whose mechanical failure converted it from a source of delight to a slow-burn lesson in frustration. I compared the Evil Box to the Fire's front office in that piece, and felt myself charitable in the analogy. For years, frustration has been the rule when observing CF97; no course, no pattern was long definable, as the explanations for the preceding moves were almost inevitably contradicted by the next, and so on, and so on.
The temptation then becomes either to disengage - to tune the team out until and unless they get a bandwagon going again - or to adopt a fatalistic ‘who knows?' attitude about the team; take what good you can get, and ignore the man behind the curtain. The Evil Box doesn't inspire loyalty or affection.
So this, then, these early honeymoon days of the Yallop era, is something rather special. We're not treated to short speeches about how difficult it is to find professional footballers who want to live in Chicago. We're not adding Designated Players to the most overstaffed parts of the roster. Holy shit, this all makes sense! At this point, it's hard to imagine a more pleasing thought - the idea that the team we supporters are looking at isn't some kind of Bizzaro-world mirror image of the team the decision-makers are considering.
Just nine days ago, I wrote about the apparent holes in the Chicago Fire's roster as they head down the stretch into the 2014 preseason. I rubbed my tiny hands together, and fretted, and pointed out four positions where the Fire needed help, like, now. And by 1 p.m. this afternoon, Yallop, Bliss and Brown had answered them all.
Preseason Chicago Fire two-deep lineup (4-4-2) as of Jan. 16. (Format is POSITION: Starter / Backup)
GK: Sean Johnson / Kyle Reynish
LB: Gonzalo Segares / Hunter Jumper
CB: Bakary Soumare / Jhon Kennedy Hurtado
CB: Austin Berry / Patrick Ianni
RB: Lovel Palmer / Marco Franco
CM: Jeff Larentowicz / Chris Ritter
CM: Alex / Victor Pineda
LM: Dilly Duka / Yazid Atouba
RM: Patrick Nyarko / Chris Rolfe
ST: Juan Luis Anangono / Quincy Amarikwa
ST: Mike Magee / Harrison Shipp
The positions I listed on Jan. 7 as needing bolstering were left back, center back, wing depth, and backup ‘keeper.
Later that afternoon, the latter one was crossed off the list, as the club signed NASL Golden Gloves winner Kyle Reynish from the New York Cosmos. Reynish's signing began a great cascade of absolute sensibleness from the front office: The Fire signed both Harrison Shipp and Chris Ritter; then solved whatever problems were holding up Yazid Atouba's visa; then swung a blockbuster trade on the eve of the draft, shuffling Jalil Anibaba off to Seattle for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni; then showed why as they watched the craziest first round in MLS history drop the most promising attacking right back in the draft into their lap, and instead of picking someone no one had heard of to prove they're the smartest smarties in the smart-box, they picked that right back. My God, it all makes sense.
We left off with back up keeper - left back is a more interesting proposition. The Anibaba trade has moved Hunter Jumper from third-choice in the middle to fifth; as such, it's likely he's going to start the season trying to win minutes spelling Gonzalo Segares, and the depth chart has changed accordingly. Getting lots of work and coaching in a position like left back is crucial if a young player is going to adapt; knowing that Segares' backup isn't going to be splitting time on the right is welcome news.
The picture at right back is obviously completely different than two weeks ago. Then, we had an unconvincing but decent incumbent; now we have a durable veteran keeping the seat warm for what we really hope is the right back of the future. Lovel Palmer isn't going to give anything away, and Franco's potential as an attacking right back is tantilizing, particularly his play in combination going forward.
Again, center back is a position that cried out for ‘strengthening,' as Yallop is wont to say. Hurtado is, potentially, one of the better defenders in the league, and is only 29, which is entering the prime years for a central defender. I've written again and again about my belief that Austin Berry and Bakary Soumare are ill-suited for a two-man central defensive partnership, that each is a battering ram who needs a partner to cover the spaces in behind, and Hurtado could be that partner. If you have MLS Live, and want to see what Hurtado can bring, check out his performance against Robbie Keane in Seattle's 1-1 road draw with LA. If you don't, here's the Cliff Notes: Keane, 90 minutes, zero shots. Ianni may be a better defender than Soumare was last year, as well. If Soumare holds off the challenge by returning to the form that earned him a contract in France, so much the better.
Wing depth has been largely addressed by young guys, which is just exactly the ideal situation. Atouba will start the season as Dilly Duka's understudy, while Shipp could see time as a playmaker off of either wing or as a withdrawn forward when Mike Magee takes a breather.
In short, the Fire front office have checked every box - filled every obvious hole - in less than 10 days. I'm not sure what else to say. All this sensibleness, all this organized sanity ... it feels a bit strange. I mean, as always, heed the NSFW advice of Mr. Winston Wolf, but this 'making sense' thing? Like most of you, I'm willing to get used to it.