Throughout the 2014 preseason, then-new head coach Frank Yallop maintained that the Chicago Fire were just a 'couple of little tweaks' away from contention in the Eastern Conference of MLS. Sure, the club was constrained under the salary-cap by contracts written by the previous regime - sure! But they had a plan, a plan that involved 'little tweaks,' some 'coaching up,' and ...
Whatever else the plan included, it clearly didn't work, as the Fire staggered to a six-win, 18-draw regular-season record, the worst record in club history. Sources in the club indicate that the fallout from this luxurious pile of failure will not be long coming, as the Chicago Fire intend to cut loose many of the most-expensive and longest-serving players on the roster in a post-season locker-room clearout. Many will be given an outright release, while some few will have an opportunity to stay on with dramatically reduced compensation.
The players expected to be cut loose include club stalwart Gonzalo Segares and veteran midfielder Alex, as well as former USA U-20 captain Benji Joya, Tottenham loanee Grant Ward, and backup centerback Patrick Ianni. Captain Jeff Larentowicz will only return if he agrees to a reduced salary; fellow vets Bakary Soumare and Robert Earnshaw are in similar positions. Also expected to be cut loose are midseason acquisition Matt Fondy and backup left back Greg Cochrane. [edit - Another source in the team indicates that Larentowicz' contract should be guaranteed through 2015. Either Big Red is being asked to take a voluntary pay cut, or one of the sources is mistaken. We shall see.]
The roster purge leaves the Fire as a team with two distinct roster groups. The first group, veterans who could be expected to lead, is quite small - Sean Johnson, Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Lovel Palmer are the highlight names, with Quincy Amarikwa, Matt Watson and Razvan Cocis the undercard. The second group - young players - includes Homegrowns Harry Shipp, Chris Ritter, Victor Pineda and Collin Fernandez, and 2014 draftee Marco Franco.
There's many miles to go here. This is just the beginning. But as a beginning, it's a big one - expect this offseason to get wilder before we see the pattern of the moves. One thing is certain - Yallop and Bliss are making good on the effort to free up most of the Fire's salary cap budget. This is a roster flush of potentially astonishing magnitude; if Sounmare and Larentowicz walk, it's every starting defender save Palmer cut loose within 12 months.
Questions and thoughts: What's Sean Johnson's contract situation again? And what's Pineda's status for 2015? How are the front office planning for '15 without a CBA in place - do they just wing it, have some rough numbers they assume are safe, or do they write all the contracts as contingent upon certain perameters? There's so many questions here, and so few answers as yet.
This time engenders a familiar feeling to a lifelong Cubs fan - that winter turn, the lack of information serving to prolong the promise of hope; if perhaps this, and maybe this and this, it could all yet come good.