It’s nearly impossible to field a team these days with a majority of home grown players. Also impossible is banking a club's success on one single player and surrounding him with mediocrity. As I recently sat watching Robin Van Persie bag a hat trick, thus sealing Manchester United’s 20th EPL title, I saw a team that fit a perfect blend. The Fire have a few homegrown players and handful of shrewd acquisitions. What they lack in their quest to be MLS champions, is their own Robin Van Persie; one that doesn’t need to be as good.
This isn’t an argument for buying goals, or bringing in a player to score nearly all of the teams goals. Spreading the wealth works. It works best if there is a top notch striker that affects the way the opposition defends. Fire midfielders and wingers are all, for the most part, capable of scoring. What has prevented scoring opportunities is an out and out striker that draws attention from the opposing defense.
Think back a few weeks ago to the game against the Red Bulls. Outside of New York’s opening goal the Red Bulls never looked too threatening. That is until Thierry Henry came on. He instantly served up a gorgeous pass that hit his teammate in stride, only for it be ruled offside. Minutes later he would hit the post on a bending shot taken with his left foot. His impact on the Red Bulls attack was swift. The team as a whole is largely inconsistent despite having considerable talent throughout their roster.
The Fire have the benefit of having players such as Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe who have spent their entire careers with the Chicago Fire. Rolfe actually fits the bill of home grown, having played with the Fire Premier before being officially drafted to the MLS club. Although not exactly "home grown," Jalil Anibaba was drafted the year prior to Austin Berry, who spent a season with the Chicago Fire Premier. Together, the two hope to form a star duo at the CB position in the near future. Add another draftee in Gonzalo Segares, and the Fire struck gold in signing Arne Friedrich. He was the big signing the club needed to solidify their defense that was comprised of home grown players.
Pause and Nyarko have been joined in the midfield ranks by Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere. The latter two have been solid additions thus far. In a sport with a salary cap, and a club with shallow pockets, not every player in midfield can be top class. They don’t need to be.
Rolfe has been playing in the hole behind Sherjill MacDonald this season. Despite Ajax having produced a plethora of attacking greatness, MacDonald is very much an exception. A lot of criticism has been levied towards the Dutchman, much of it warranted, some of it under less than fair pretense. MacDonald’s strength is his hold up play, which he’s done a decent job of this season. Where he’s lacked, and cost the team dreadfully, is his ability to put away easy shots. Against Columbus he had at least two opportunities to score; both were met with poor execution. This is precisely why he was and will continue to be left open at times as the opposition focuses on marking other Fire attackers on the pitch.
What the Fire need is one, purely gifted, goal scoring striker. He won’t need to do it all because the squad has enough talent to chip in their fair share of goals. Scoring will be essential, but just as much as drawing defenders away from the oft-fouled Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe. This Fire team is built to win now. A prolific, goal-scoring striker makes the MLS Cup that much more attainable.
Some realistic names that come to mind in my view includes:
Herculez Gomez: He’s rediscovered his best form in Mexico. If he can consistently score, his addition would be a welcome one. Whether Santos would be willing to part ways is another story, although Herc recently talked about a return to MLS, even tweeting back and forth with Don Garber about it the other day.
Kris Boyd: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The Portland Timbers were awful last season, and Boyd bore a brunt of the blame. However, with better talent surrounding him, and a manager who doesn’t appear as clueless as John Spencer, things could work for Boyd in Chicago.
Peter Crouch: Inconsistent playing time and scoring droughts in arguably the world’s most competitive league can be overlooked for what the tall Englishman can provide. Think of Patrick Nyarko crossing to a 6-7 striker who has a keen eye for goal. Crouch’s seldom used Stoke teammate Michael Owen might be a more popular pick if it weren’t for the fact he plans to retire from the game at seasons end.
Craig Bellamy: A very controversial player who could never quite fit in anywhere. Short-term, his goal scoring capabilities are just what the Fire could use in a push for an MLS Cup. Bellamy just helped Cardiff win promotion to the EPL but given his recent inability to play effectively in that league, it might make him available come this summer.
While it's clear the Men in Red need to do something when the window opens to try to fortify the roster, the question will be what moves (if any) are made. While recent rumors (again) have the Fire targeting midfielder Sebastian Mila, I think the most prudent move is to bring in a proven, consistent goal scorer that the team is clearly lacking. While the names above may seem a bit out of the box so to speak, sometimes those are the moves that work out the best.