Rumors of Pavel Pardo are flying around Chicago Fire Country and I think this as close to a done deal as you can get for written and non-written reasons. The only problem? The current roster would not allow it to happen. One of the main intrigues? The team already has several players in the central midfield position. How would a rumored Pardo fit both within the rules and on the field? Follow me after the break.
The International Slot
Problem No. 1 with the Pardo rumor is each team is only given 8 international slots at the beginning of the season in accordance with Part I, Section Domestic/International of the MLS Roster Rules. At first glance there is no room at the international inn so to speak thanks to the following Super 8:
So are all international player rumors dead on arrival thanks to the signing of Sebastian Grazzini? Not so fast... The Chicago Fire could get rid of one of the players above. Even more involved Fire fans might have forgotten that Marko Maric was part of the team and he still sits on the DL. While not explicitly stated in the MLS' rules, I don't think teams can release injured players. Such occurrences are very few and far between. If Maric is here to stay, then who is next on the hot seat?
'Last in, first out' may be an unofficial motto in corporate America but clearly Chicago is not getting rid of Sebastian Grazzini. Marco Pappa, Cristian Nazarit, Diego Chaves, and Yamith Cuesta are permanent and/or frequent fixtures in the lineup so that leaves us with Josip Mikulic and Bratislav Ristic. Both players are defensive backups at this point and both players have only started a handful of games. Mikulic has received far more positive reviews in his time at center back. Ristic's critical acclaim has been more mixed. Mikulic backs up Cory Gibbs and Yamith Cuesta. Ristic backs up Jalil Anibaba and possibly Gonzalo Segares although Pari Pantazopoulos has seen more time at Segares' LB position in non-MLS regular season action than Ristic has as of late. Segares continues to be the only Fire player to start every MLS game. Throw in the fact that Gibbs and Cuesta are accumulating yellow cards at an accelerated rate and Gibbs is historically due for another injury soon and Mikulic's spot looks much more secure. If the team does sign another international player, I expect Ristic to be released. It's an even easier decision if Ristic signed a one-year contract on September 14, 2010. He's played over 30 games wearing the Fire badge. He might have been overpaid a bit but worse players have milked more money out of the Fire and gave less in the last year.
No player need be released if Chicago can acquire another international slot though. While each team starts with 8 international slots, 144 total slots exist league wide and individual slots can be traded for. Just this past weekend, the New York Red Bulls shipped midfielder Austin da Luz to D.C. United straight up for an international slot. Just earlier today, the Houston Dynamo acquired midfielder Adam Moffat and allocation money from the Portland Timbers today in exchange for defender Mike Chabala, midfielder Lovel Palmer, and an international roster slot. Any team out there not using all 8 international slots and want a rarely used player like Gabriel Ferrari or Michael Videira? Perhaps the team could cook up a trade for another striker and an international spot. Either way we aren't getting a player who doesn't qualify as a domestic player unless a corresponding transaction goes down. It's easy to pull off so let's move ahead of ourselves and examine what would happen to the midfield.
Central Midfield Depth Chart
1. Pavel Pardo
2. Sebastian Grazzini
3. Logan Pause
4. Daniel Paladini
5. Corben Bone
6. Baggio Husidic
7. Michael Videira
Outside of Pardo and Grazzini, the other five players represent players that have actually taken the field in the central midfield for Chicago this year and are currently on the team. You can argue the order of Bone-Husidic-Videira but the point is they are down where they are. Frank Klopas selects 4 midfielders for game day and he only subs one in - if at all. Being 5, 6, or 7 don't amount to a hill of beans for most matches.
The depth chart above might be even more controversial because it would send the captain to the bench. I would be surprised if Pause continued to start over Pardo or Grazzini because Pardo and Grazzini would be unnecessary signings if the other midfielders were doing their job. The fact of the matter is the Fire have a pretty good goalie, a pretty good defense, some pretty good wing players, and a variety of forwards that show some promise. The weakest link on this team is the midfield. It's possible that Grazzini and a potential Pardo would be worked in or lose their job due to poor play but they will get their chances just like Pause, Paladini, Bone, Husidic, and Videira before them. You might be excited about the Manchester United game on Saturday but the next Fire transaction will likely have a profound impact on this team going forward in 2011 and beyond.