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Rumors of the Chicago Fire kind; Michael Ballack? Mysterious Greeks? Carlos Bocanegra?

Will we ever see Carlos Bocanegra back for the Men in Red?
Will we ever see Carlos Bocanegra back for the Men in Red?

The Fire have had a tremendous offseason so far. We have fortified our midfield, improved our defense in the SuperDraft, and even added some forwards to the mix. The Fire midfield is certainly the most populated on the team, and one I would definitely consider it a strength. It's credit to the front office for taking what was considered a big weakness last year and turning it into one of our strong points.

The recent Wilman Conde deal has given the Fire a nice chunk of extra allocation money. It wasn't too long ago that we were in a bit of a bind in terms of international spots. Now it's not so much of a problem, with 3 full international spots. This extra allocation money, combined with the fact that we have open international slots open, as well as the CB shortage we have, makes me wonder if another signing or two could be made before the season. Join me after the break for some further thoughts...

A VERY interesting rumor has been making the rounds today. It cites that German soccer superstar Michael Ballack is rumored to be sparking interest from the Chicago Fire. While I would take this rumor with a huge grain of salt, it is nice to see the Fire linked with names like this from time to time, as it helps provide exposure, as well as showing the ambition that a club like the Fire have to go out and get players that will help them win. While not all rumors/interest in players are to be believed, again it can be a positive for a club to be linked to world class players. Oh, and also the fact that the world class talent is on your team helping them out.

On the flip side, Chicago Fire beat writer, Sam Stejskal was quick to put this rumor to rest this morning on Twitter:

Repeat: Club source told me today that there is no truth to Fire-Ballack rumors. Just wanted to throw that out there again.
While I don't think the likelihood of this happening is very big at all, it's still an interesting thought to ponder. Our midfield is already full, especially with the return of Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini. Add the Rafael Robayo signing into that, and the center of the pitch is a full house. While Ballack is getting older and certainly going down talent wise than going up, if the signing came to pass I think it could be a very good deal for the Fire. Anytime you can add a player of that quality with the experience he has, it can only help. It would certainly shake things up a bit in terms of the lineup, but different looks than what we are used to may not be so bad. Some of the most successful moves/strategies that end up working out for teams can stem from trying something different or being forced to change a little bit and then realizing you have stumbled on to something. If this were to occur, it would be huge for Chicago and for the Fire.

Another link being made to the Fire is interest in a mystery Greek CB. This came from the Soccer Insider Twitter feed of Steven Goff yesterday, who is a Washington Post reporter. Although a player is not named, the message was:
Getting word Chicago Fire has taken interest in a Greek center back. Waiting on details. #mls
This certainly would be much more believable than the Ballack rumor, and much more likely to happen in my opinion. Especially since we have the aforementioned extra allocation money now, as well as open international slots. And given the fact that Frank takes keen interest in Greek soccer talent, I certainly could see this rumor as been very legit. One name to speculate is not actually a Greek player, but a player in the Greek league, Olof Mellberg. The 34 year-old Swedish international center back was linked to Chicago last month. His club, Olympiacos, operates an official academy in Chicago. The Greek club was facing a potential 'foreign slot' problem of their own as the deadline approached yesterday.

One thing to keep in mind here is that any player brought in for CB cover would not necessarily be a big name or a starter. That could happen, but our back line is good. What is ideally needed is someone that can help provide cover in case injuries happen, a player is struggling with form, etc. So any CB signing may not be a huge splashy name, but rather a functional CB role player that is there to help the team, rather than take someone's job.

I also feel that this article would be remiss if I didn't bring up one Carlos Bocanegra. Of course no Fire fan has to be reminded of who this guy is. He signed a 3 year deal with Rangers of the Scottish Premier League. The deal was penned on August 17th, 2011. While Carlos would be the perfect fill in to our CB issue, and all Fire fans would welcome him back with open arms, I am not so sure this happens. I would love for nothing more than to see Boca back at Toyota Park, but I don't think the time is right for that.

First of all, he has a contract with Rangers for another 2 1/2 years. The Fire would need to find a way to get him out of that, and it could get very costly. Not to mention, unless there is some odd rule in effect for Boca's case, I believe he would still have to go through the non-sensical MLS allocation process to come back to the Fire. Meaning even if he only wanted to play in Chicago, we would still have to pay a pretty penny to move to the top of the allocation order (a la the Brian McBride case in 2008). So we would need to pay a lot to get him here (if Rangers would even accommodate that), and then likely pay a lot to move to the top of the allocation order. His salary would also be quite hefty. Again, as much as I would like for this to happen, the time is just not right for him to come back.

Another consideration for Boca is that he may not want to come back yet. He can obviously still play at a high level internationally. While the MLS skill level is certainly growing quickly, it's still not to the level of some of the other major leagues around the world. Simply put, playing in those leagues greatly raises your visibility for National Team call-ups, good contract offers from other clubs, and is more challenging due to a higher level of play. Most world class players want to play against the best for as long as they can.

Carlos himself has even said he would like to come back to the MLS someday, and even play for the Fire again. While all Fire fans, including myself, dream about this day, I just can't see it happening for at least 2-3 years, if not a bit longer. I am not saying that a player still in good form is too good for the MLS. Unfortunately I think it will be a few more years wait until we hopefully get to see Boca in Fire red again.

Although the wait until the first game of the season seems agonizing, at least we have a good handful of preseason matches, including one tonight. It will be nice to get a look at some of the new signings when these games start to be streamed. Another possible incoming signing or two could really kick things into overdrive. Taking all of this into account, it is really ratcheting up the excitement level for Fire fans heading into the dawn of a new season.