The Chicago Fire's makeover for 2015 could take many shapes - a public turn to the Academy, an MLS 1.0 reliance on the draft, a raft of middling internationals, huge names at the end of productive careers, or any combination thereof - but the first step was always thus: A list of players who would remain, and another, longer scroll inscribed with the names of the Revoked, asked either to play for less or leave altogether.
The shorter list began with the announcement that Patrick Nyarko - currently in the first month of a multi-month rehab from knee surgery - had signed a contract extension with CF97. One imagines some amount of compensation was horse-traded for the comfort of knowing that he wouldn't be playing for his footballing life for half a season after returning from a serious injury. If he can return to his pre-2014 productivity at a reduced price, Nyarko would represent a tidy bit of business by the technical side. If he cannot, at the least they showed some loyalty to a guy who's put it all out there for years.
The rest of the shorter 'kept' list included both backup keepers, Kyle Reynish and Alec Kann; defender Greg Cochrane; midfielders Matt Watson and Chris Ritter; and forward Quincy Amarikwa. This was announced in an unsigned press release around lunchtime. The same press release moved briskly to the sadder, longer list, those who can play for less if they're even welcome to stay.
The club today announced its refusal to exercise the options of 11 players, listed below with commentary. There announcement also noted that a further three players were no longer under contract to the club. Please keep in mind that being on this list in no way guarantees the player's exit from the club - it merely means that the club felt the salary number on the contracted extension didn't represent good value. Several of these men could return in 2015, for less money, fighting for playing time. Several will almost certainly not.
It would always have started thus. The clearout is underway. The question has always been, what comes in? Can Yallop and Bliss (and, say it quietly, Hauptman) deliver where others have failed?
Bakary Soumare - Soumare's contract was one of the true albatross deals on the current roster, so his inclusion at that number ($370k cap hit) is not only expected but eagerly anticipated. To make that contract value for money, Soumare would have to be a rock-solid MLS Best XI level player; respectfully, he simply is not.
Gonzalo Segares ($173k) - Owwww. Gonzalo re-upped
last year (correction: after 2012) at a lower number. I have always love Sega's game, but he's lost more than a step in the last two years, fought injuries all season, and generally looked a shadow of his usual barnstorming self this season. I'm guessing they'll have him back with yet another haircut.
Alex ($133k) - I wrote about Alex the day that Gabriel Garcia Marquez died. We want him to float; he does not.
Sanna Nyassi ($154k) - It's possible the Fire would like to bring back Sanna at a lower number; how amenable he is to the idea is unclear. He's speedy wing depth if he re-signs at a lower number.
Robert Earnshaw ($206k) - Earnshaw's deal is a classic contract you only really see in MLS - the Fire had a deal for another forward go south (the other club decided not to sell), and well gee here's all this cap space, and something like two healthy forwards on the roster. Whatever his option is, he'd've needed to score 10 goals to get extended at that number at 34 years old.
Florent Sinama-Pongolle ($81k) - Either the extension was a lot more money, or the technical staff were completely underwhelmed by FSP. He did seem to be coming into form a little at the very end of the season, but his career has been a series of nearly-almostings and graphs drawn with hopeful upward gestures of the pen. Cutting 'France's Freddy Adu' loose won't ruffle anyone's feathers.
Hunter Jumper ($48k) - Jumper's a sad case of a career derailed by serious, non-sporting health problems. We wish him the very best going forward.
Steven Kinney ($48k) - Kinney's had a terrible time staying healthy. It's disheartening to say; the guy clearly has some ability and works hard. If his career is to continue, it will likely be at the NASL or USL Pro level.
Marco Franco ($36k) - If you're a rookie who can't sniff the field, and they don't extend your minimum-salary deal, you're not coming back.
Matt Fondy ($48k) - Fondy was always a shot in the dark, hoping to find a useful player while just plugging a roster hole in the short term. Unfortunately, his signing became something of an emblem for the perception that the once-proud Fire are now shopping in the bargain bin. On the field, he was workmanlike in limited minutes.
Victor Pineda ($66k, out of contract) - Victor is an interesting proposition - he's a kid who actually made the most of a loan stint. Pineda's dynamic midfield play was a big part of Indy11's late-season surge in NASL. Now he's out of contract, an actual Fire Academy product just on the cusp of the productive part of his career; will he re-sign with his first club or will he move to Indianapolis permanently? It's just possible that Indy11 could pay him better than CF97 can.
Benji Joya (loan completed) - Joya was on loan to MLS from Santos Laguna; to keep him, the Fire would've had to pay a sizable transfer fee. That fee was negotiated before Joya drifted through his year in Chicago, visibly gaining weight as he slid out of the gameday 18 altogether. It's too bad,
Grant Ward (loan completed) - Don't be stunned if Grant is back on loan to the Fire next year. He doesn't seem to be anywhere near the long-term plans for Spurs. The soccer market is wide, though; Tottenham could get an offer that sends Ward in a completely different direction.