January 18, 2012 will mark Frank Klopas' 4th full year as technical director for the Chicago Fire. The club has enjoyed a roller coaster ride, from the highs of cup finals to the lows of missing the Playoffs. In this time, Klopas has been responsible for signing players both foreign and domestic. With the transfer window opening in the past couple of days, I believe an examination of the Fire's international signings under Klopas is important, especially considering that the search for international talent for the 2012 season is well under way.
The signings in each of the four seasons will be examined for their on-the-field contributions as well as how much the player hurt the Fire's pocketbook. American players who signed for the Fire from overseas will not be looked at, nor will international players who signed for the team from another MLS team. Each will then get an overall grade from "A" to "F" Let us begin.
2008: Klopas's First Season as Fire Technical Director
Chicago brought in four players from overseas, including Polish striker Tomasz Frankowski and Paraguayan center back Lider Marmol. Frankowski played 17 games for the Fire in 2008, scoring 2 goals and notching up 2 assists. Frankowski's guaranteed salary for 2008 was just over $214,000. Though a lot of fans liked Franek, he never was able to produce the goal scoring exploits that has won him championships in his native Poland. Marmol was a player that Frank clearly thought highly of but he couldn't get into the side with Conde and Soumare forming a solid partnership at the center for the defense. Marmol played in 2 games in 2008 and cost the Fire just over $109,000. The Fire also loaned Marco Pappa, the Guatemalan winger who had a slow start to his Fire career, not scoring or getting any assists. Pappa however has gone on to have a successful stint with the club. He signed permanently in 2009 and, even though he didn't have a great time last season, he remains one of the team's most potent attackers. In 2008, Pappa's guaranteed salary was $33,000 but it has jumped to $125,000 in 2011. 2008 also saw the return of Andy Herron to the Fire after leaving the team in 2006. Herron's second stint with the team was much more disappointing than the first, scoring no goals in 17 appearances for the club in the 2008 regular season costing the club just over $102,000.
Lider Marmol: F
Tomasz Frankowski: D
Marco Pappa: B
Andy Herron: D
2009: A Quiet Year
Klopas had a full offseason in 2009 to recruit and sign international players to bolster the team. In 2009 the Fire signed two players, Bulgarian striker Stefan Dimitrov and Costa Rican defender David Myrie. Myrie didn't kick a ball for the Fire in the 2009 regular season and cost the club just over $34,000. Dimitrov played in 7 games, failing to score or get an assist. Like Myrie, Dimitrov cost the club just over $34,000.
Stefan Dimitrov: D
David Myrie: F
2010: Back on the Market
In this season Frank had a considerable amount of international players, signing seven in total. The first I will examine is Collins John. John was the latest in a long line of nomadic strikers who have bounced between different clubs around the globe before landing in the MLS (think Paulo Wanchope, Frankowski, and Nery Castillo who we will focus on later). John looked sluggish in his one season with the Fire and also suffered from injuries. He did manage to play in 17 regular season games, scoring three goals and getting one assist. The Fire had the option of keeping John for a further few seasons but decided to cut their losses after one disappointing season. John cost the Fire just over $181,000 in 2010.
Another international signed in 2010 was Julio Martinez on loan from the Mexican club Leon. Martinez played 3 league matches and scored one goal before being let go after only 6 months. Head coach at the time Carlos De Los Cobos had this to say at the time of Martinez's release: "What I was expecting from Julio was better performance and a more decisive attitude on the field." The Fire was paying Martinez $126,000 according to the MLS player's salaries released by the Players Union.
The second Polish player signed in the Klopas era was defender Krzysztof Krol. Krol was known more for his off the field activities than his actual MLS performances, getting one assist in his 19 regular season games for the Fire in his only season. Krol was paid $100,000 by the Fire in 2010 before being released. Another left back signed by the Fire in 2010 was an old favorite, Gonazlo Segares who returned from a spell in Cyprus. Sega played in 6 regular season games after resigning in the latter part of the season. In 2011 he didn't have the greatest of years but will certainly play a major role for the team in 2012. Sega signed a contract which will net him over $167,000 a year.
Probably the biggest disappointment in the Klopas era was the signing of Mexican striker Nery Castillo, a player the Fire had courted for years before finally signing him in July of 2010. Castillo's first appearance was a substitution met with fireworks exploding at Toyota Park. The fireworks were the only noise that Castillo made in his disastrous 8 match stint with the Fire where he failed to score or get an assist, looking out of shape and severely lacking match practice. Unfortunately for the Fire, Castillo cost the Fire DP money, a guaranteed $1.78 million.
Deris Umanzor signed for the Fire in April 2010 to beef up the team's back line. Umanzor was another disappointment, playing only 10 regular season games in a forgettable 2010 season. His stint cost the Fire $72,000 in his single season. Finally in 2010, the Fire signed Serbian Bratislav Ristic. Ristic played in 8 games in 2010 after signing in September. Ristic was a utility man for the Fire in 2010 and again in 2011 where he played in 9 games before being released in July of 2011. Ristic played all over the back line and in midfield in his 10 months with the team and showed true commitment to the badge, even when the team was performing very, very poorly.
Deris Umanzor: F
Bratislav Ristic: B
Nery Castillo: F
Krzysztof Krol: D
Collins John: D
Julio Martinez: D
Gonzalo Segares: B
2011: Glimpses of Success?
Frank's fourth year was also a busy one with nine international players signed. Marko Maric is the first player I will examine. Maric spent almost all of the 2011 season injured and only played one game the whole season. The Fire fans never got to really see what Maric could offer and therefore it is impossible to give him a grade because if he didn't get hurt, he could have made a big impact in 2011. Maric was earning a guaranteed $200,000 before being cut in September.
Another Croatian signed by the team in 2011 was Josip Mikulic. Mikulic played in 14 regular season games and formed a good partnership with Cory Gibbs toward the end of the season. Mikulic adapted to the MLS very well and would certainly have played more games if he didn't pick up some injuries. Mikulic will be competing with Gibbs and Anibaba for a starting place at the heart of the Fire's defense in 2012. He cost the team just over $116,000 in 2011. Open tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos failed to play a regular season game for the club but his energy and enthusiasm were there for all to see during training, friendlies and reserve matches. The Greek was paid a minimal $32,604 in the 2011 season and it is unclear whether he will return in 2012.
The Fire signed four international strikers in 2011 including two Uruguayans, Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari. Chaves started the season very hot with 4 goals in the first 6 games but then failed to deliver for almost the rest of the year, ending with 6 goals and 1 assist in 29 regular season games. Chaves was not always first choice but performed well for the team and was especially good at holding the ball up. Fortunately for the Fire, Chaves adapted quickly to life in Chicago and has spoken of his desire to remain with the club even though it is unlikely he will be resigned. He cost the team a reported $45,000 in 2011. His fellow countryman Puerari also started well for the Fire and had a good partnership with Chaves before deciding to move to Mexican club Atlas halfway through the season. He played in 14 regular season games, scoring 1 goal and getting to assists. At the time of his exit he was on a $50,000 contract with the Fire.
Massive Colombian striker Cristian Nazarit was the Nery Castillo of the 2011 season, signing a big contract and failing to contribute to the team. He did very well for the Fire's reserve team but scored only 2 goals in his 12 regular season games. He did manage to score a last minute winner in Columbus for which he will be fondly remembered but he certainly was not worth the reported $302,500 he was paid in 2011. The final striker signed in 2011 was Israeli u21 international Orr Barouch. The striker became an instant fan favorite after coming on loan from Mexico. Orr only started 2 games for the team but came off the bench 26 times in the regular season, scoring 2 goals and getting 2 assists. One of the few criticisms of the Klopas during his stint as interim coach was that he didn't start Barouch in enough games. His performances for the team didn't go unnoticed however, resulting in call-ups to the Israeli u21 team. He cost the team a bargain $32.600 last season.
The final two players signed in 2011 by Frank Klopas were Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini, both signed in the second half of the season. Both players had a tremendous impact and led the team to within a whisker of making the Playoffs and to the final of the US Open Cup. Pardo was the anchorman, breaking up plays and starting attacks with his killer passes. Grazzini brought his South American flair and passion to the team, scoring fantastic goals and notching up some brilliant assists as well. Both players will be some of the first names on the team sheet next season and will be crucial for the Fire in 2012. Grazzini scored 5 goals and got 4 assists, costing the team a reported $48,000 while Pardo notched 1 goal and 5 assists, costing just under $160,000.
Pavel Pardo: A
Sebastian Grazzini: A
Orr Barouch: B
Cristian Nazarit: F
Diego Chaves: B
Gaston Puerari: B
Pari Pantazopoulos: C
Josip Mukulic: B
Marko Maric: N/A
2012 & Beyond: What Can We Expect?
Looking back on the four years of Klopas as Technical Director, we have seen some high profile busts as well as some unearthed gems. The average grade for the 22 international players is around 52%, a resounding F. One interesting caveat however is that the first three seasons all averaged an F grade but last year the average was a much more respectable C. Some may argue that the C grade is down to a more sophisticated scouting system or perhaps the return of Mike Jeffries to the club in the capacity of Director of Player Personnel. I would agree with both of these points, I would also argue that after four years, Klopas seems to be honing his eye for talent. The 2012 season however will be the acid test.
As of now, the team has not hired a new Technical Director and with Klopas globetrotting in search of talent, it looks as if all the international players signed in 2011 will be the his choices. With the transfer window now open and only weeks before the players start preseason training, expect to see the Fire signing some international players in the very near future. A DP may also be on the cards at some point this season. The Fire has a good core squad which will certainly be improved in the upcoming MLS Draft and perhaps with subsequent trades, two places where the Fire have been very successful throughout their history improving the team. International talent however, is still badly needed. Hopefully we will be seeing more players like Orr Barouch and Josip Mukulic and not another Cristian Nazarit or Deris Umanzor.