Ah, the silly season. All the frustrating aspects of the offseason - the parched months without a game, the anxious drifting of weeks without any real news - are balanced by hopes and dreams, the things the club might do, could do, surely will do ...
Which means, as disappointing as 2014 was for the Chicago Fire, it's time to shake off the doldrums and get our hopin' shoes on. There's going to be massive turnover on the roster - that's been established - so the question now is, who will CF97 sign to make a difference in '15? We've been told there's a good budget to sign players; we've seen the roster stripped down to the bone to make way for those players; so who?
Today's first entry in our series of offseason roundtables tackles that question speculatively - who should the Fire sign? As Frank Yallop is currently in Europe, we took that as our boundary condition. In other words, today's roundtable is a series of answers to the question, "Which American playing in Europe should the Fire sign?"
Yes, it's silly season. It's time to get hopeful again.
Sean Spence: Jozy Altidore
It's safe to say that things haven't gone Jozy's way since joining Sunderland, but he's still the best target forward the USA has produced since Brian McBride. And he's looking to join a new club in the January window, but it's hard to imagine the Black Cats will see much of a bidding war for a guy who's scored two goals in 42 appearances since returning to England. So why not a loan to the Fire to rebuild his confidence?
The Men in Red came undone tactically as the 2014 season wore on - an inability to generate chances through the middle of the pitch led to the team playing simple, direct football. Altidore's strength, runs and combination play would not only create more chances from those desperate crosses, but also serve as a security blanket for a team which lacked an outlet under pressure. Jozy's ability to play with his back to goal would allow the team to better keep the ball, and his confidence in front of goal would surely rebound when playing against MLS defenses. He's just two seasons removed from scoring 30 goals for AZ in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Finally, for a team that seems to struggle with its 'Q' rating - the Fire were one of the least sought-after tickets for their road games in '14 - Altidore would be a godsend. How many 25-year-olds who are automatic starters for their national team will be available in the January window? There cannot be many. Jozy ticks all the boxes. Go get him, Frank.
(Note: If we hadn't been restricted to players plying their trade in Europe, I would have gone for Greg Garza. So now you know that - heh.)
Dan Paulmeyer: Danny Williams
With this off-season shaping up to one full of roster turmoil and rumors, moving for Reading's Danny Williams could be a great move for the Fire. When looking at the Fire roster, this a move that could help see the team into a new era.
Since the status of Jeff Larentowicz is in question, Danny Williams could be a natural upgrade for the team. He could provide a midfield base for Yallop to reconstruct the team around. With his ability to shield the defense and connect with the attack, he could take away some defensive responsibilities from others. This could be huge for a player such as Harry Shipp. Even more will be expected of Shipp after his standout rookie year and taking away some of his defensive responsibilities could continue his grow.
Every good team needs someone to be the base of the midfield and from there, the right additions can be made to compliment a player of Danny Williams' quality. There is the potential downside of his past injuries but those look to hopefully be in the past. Another thing to consider is the probability of actually getting him. Reading was extremely close to promotion to the Premier League and Williams most likely won't leave if he thinks he will be playing the top division next year. If Reading were to fall out of contention, a decent offer might be just the thing to bring him the Windy City.
Williams wins the ball, feeds Shipp who lays it off for a Magee finish. Think about it.
Adam Merges: John Anthony Brooks
John Anthony Brooks would be a perfect player to add to the 2015 Fire roster. Having made a name among US soccer fans for his performance versus Ghana at the 2014 World Cup would not only stabilize the backline of the men in red, but he could be the next CJ Brown. What I mean by that is Brooks could be the presence in the backline that does not change over the next 10 plus years. That's something that the Fire have been missing over the past 4 or 5 years is a stability in the backline that can grow over time.
Imagine having a defender that grew up in a prominent Bundesliga club's youth system and has already appeared for the Hertha first team almost 50 times. With playing in the German leagues he is already used to a very physically demanding league and should have very little trouble adjusting to the MLS style of play.
One downside to him is that lately he has been having an inconsistent year in the Bundesliga. The manager at Hertha called out the defender due to his inconsistent play in September and Brooks was forced to play for the reserve team and has since the middle of October seen time in the Bundesliga only off the bench and played a full 90 in the German DFB Pokal loss to Arminia Bielefeld.
Yes, John Anthony Brooks would command a decent transfer fee but it would be a small price to pay for a defender that can lead the Fire backline for years to come. For the Fire this would be a no brainer, a recognizable USMNT player with Chicago connections, and someone who along with Harry Shipp could be a solid foundation to build a team around.
Anthony Seymour: Julian Green
In looking for the ideal American player who is currently playing abroad that I would want to see in a Fire kit in 2015 I would look no further than Julian Green. Sure, the case could be made that he is hardly American, with his split German heritage, but being selected for the USMNT is enough for for me. The young 19 year old phenom has a lot of skills that the Fire could use for many years to come.
Originally a striker who is now operating on the wing, Green could fill a role that the Fire are sorely lacking. With both Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko missing time to injury in 2015, Green could provide much-needed relief in either position. At such a young age, he could fill either role into the foreseeable future while the Fire's aging talent declines.
In December 2013, Bleacher Report's scouts reported that he's "A two-footed player of great versatility, he's impressed in all areas of attacking midfield and as a main striker" and that he is "Armed with a soft touch, the pace and agility of a winger and the lethal scoring instinct of a striker, Green has an expansive array of skills and can be used in a variety of different roles..."
He sure sounds like the type of talent the Fire could use and, with his reported strong work ethic, he has room to learn and grow as a young talent. All this praise came before the famed 2014 World Cup goal, on his first touch, scoring on a volley agains Belgium in the 107th minute.
His soft touch, ability to drive the ball down the wings and lethal finish would certainly come into handy for a Fire side that in 2014 struggled both on the drive through the middle of the pitch and in the box. Green has won the heart of USMNT fans and head coach Jürgen Klinsmann alike, and would quickly win the hearts of the Fire faithful as well.
Rationally I realize this is extremely unlikely to happen. Green, who spent 3 years of his youth career in Bayern Munich's youth system, has played with their second team for a year and is under contract until 2017. Presently he is on loan in the Bundesliga to Hamburger SV so even a loan deal is unlikely. [A loan beginning during the 2015 summer transfer window is a possibility, as he cannot be registered to a third club in a single year. - ed]
Still, Julian Green is the type of you up and coming talent the Fire should be targeting. Why bring in an aging superstar in the twilight of their career? Aging talent is fleeting, but Green is the future of US soccer.
Ruben Tisch: Jonathan Spector
The Chicago Fire find themselves in need of not just a rebuild, but a reboot. They need everything, from goalscorers to wingers to another central attacking midfielder. Where do I think they should go?
The old adage "Offense sells tickets but defense wins championships" is alive and well, and there's an American out there right now who fills the defensive needs of the Fire: Birmingham City player Jonathan Spector.
To start with, he's a good defender, and versatile, too. He can play all four positions in the back and can even play a bit of midfield. And he's a local kid - a Chicago Sockers and Hoffman Estates product. He was even in the Fire system in 2003 before moving to the Manchester United youth system in '04.
It could be a good move for him, too. Birmingham City are toiling in the Championship; first-division soccer could put him back on Juergen Klinsmann's radar ahead of the Gold Cup in 2015 and Copa America in 2016.
#SpectorToCF97 is a beneficial move for both parties, and something the front office should pursue.
Braulio Diaz: Mix Diskerud
When the question was brought up, it didn't take much contemplation to choose my perfect candidate for this discussion. I'd been following his career since he first showed up on the American radar, and the fact that some had questioned where his national loyalty would lie made him even more interesting. I'm not referring to any potential political candidate. No, this is a much more serious conversation. The question is - if I could take any American soccer player who is currently playing abroad, who would it be? Again, this was a no-brainer. Just check my twitter.
Mix Diskerud is Norwegian-American and is currently playing for Rosenborg BK in the Norwegian Tippeligaen. He also plays for the US Men's National Team, after previously splitting time between both American and Norwegian teams at the youth level. He has 4 goals in 23 caps for the USMNT senior squad, played on the 2013 Gold Cup winning team, and was on the plane to Brazil as part of Klinsmann's final roster for the 2014 World Cup.
I've dreamed of Mix coming to the Fire since before the summer of 2013, and not just for his hair (although having a flow like that on the team could only be a bonus). Mix plays in the center midfield for Rosenborg. He's not incredibly flashy, but he is technically and physically sound. He does great to push forward and control the midfield, and has tremendous vision to distribute to the wings and advancing strikers. He's the quintessential box-to-box midfielder that can bunker down and help the defense clear any danger in his own half, then haul to the end of the field and be part of a counter attack. A good example of his work rate and his ability to do-it-all lies in the USMNT's International Friendly vs. The Czech Republic on September 3rd 2014, just a few months after the World Cup. Diskerud held down the midfield both defensively and through the attack, creating the chance that Alejandro Bedoya would put in the back of the net for the 1-0 win. Diskerud's initial shot was blocked by Petr Cech, and the rebound fell to Bedoya who made no mistake in hitting it home.
Diskerud could do a world of good to help out the Fire's current under-achieving midfield. If paired in the center with Jeff Larentowitz as the anchor, Mix could have more freedom in creating chances from the CAM position, but could still come back and help defensively if the opponent is putting on some heavy pressure. Despite the midfield carousel that was the 2014 Chicago Fire, we weren't able to identify a strong central midfielder that could be productive on both sides of the ball. Alex was not the answer in 2014, and he will not be the answer in the future.
If you are skeptical on whether Mix would come to MLS, it was reported that he was set to sign with the Portland Timbers, but the final deal was rumored to have fallen through due to MLS rules of allocation and where he would be ultimately dealt. All of which is not surprising, because MLS, but it at the very least shows that he may be interested in playing in the league.
And if you skeptical on whether Mix would come to the Chicago Fire, look no further than Mix's tweet on July 27 2013, when he was in the city for the Gold Cup Final.
I have fallen in love with Chicago— Mix Diskerud (@MixDiskerud) July 27, 2013
I'll just leave that here. And oh yeah, #MixTocf97!
Hate these options? Love one or another? Have better ideas of your own? Leave a comment to set us straight!