For young players, time on the field in competitive games is all-important. It's one thing to show the coaches your skills in practice; it's entirely another to demonstrate those abilities during real matches against men whose livelihood depends upon the game. That experience is impossible to mimic. It is the finishing school for football talent.
Once the object of some well-deserved scorn, the Fire's commitment to developing its own players has seen a boost under Frank Yallop. Of course there's this year's pickup of Homegrown players Harry Shipp and Chris Ritter, who showed up to training camp nearly ready for first-team football; but on the other side of the coin, a series of loan agreements have seen promising young talents getting crucial minutes for lower-division sides.
The most successful of those arrangements involves an old friend, the first President of the Chicago Fire, Peter Wilt. Wilt is now heading up Indy 11, a massively successful NASL start-up - they've sold out every game and average over 10,000 in attendance. Wilt's 11 loaned the Fire's first Homegrown player, Victor Pineda, in mid-June, and Pineda has managed to become a regular in a strong Indianapolis midfield, starting the last nine games on the trot for the second-division side.
Then Wednesday, Wilt teased us with this on Twitter:
The question before us today is: Which young player will Indianapolis loan next? Here's some candidates, with commentary as to the likelihood of a short-term deal:
Benji Joya - It's important to remember that Joya is only 20 years old, and that his development as a professional midfielder is likely to be a two-steps-forward, one-step-back affair. That said, it's disappointing to see a kid as talented as Benji get only six minutes playing time since June. He's frequently in the 18, but seldom on the field - could Joya join Pineda in Indianapolis? Likelihood: Sure, could be.
Marco Franco - Franco simply vanished off the end of the CF97 bench early in the season, as Lovel Palmer made the right-back position his. A brief loan to USL-Pro side OC Blues returned Marco to his college stomping grounds and got him some minutes, but the USL-Pro season is over now. Does Indy need an attack-minded right back? Likelihood: Seems like a solid idea.
Chris Ritter - Ritter's season started slow due to a series of injuries, but he's seen more time than anyone on this small list, including a run of five consecutive starts around the time of the World Cup. That said, he hasn't played a single minute with the first team in the last five weeks. Could a short loan keep him progressing? Likelihood: Doubtful.
Steven Kinney - The most experienced (and at 26 years, the oldest) player on this list, Kinney has had an astonishingly woeful time with injuries since playing in 13 games as a rookie in 2010. If, as seems possible, he's not in the club's plans for 2015, a loan to Indy11 could serve as an extended tryout (and proof of health) for a dude who just needs to play. Likelihood: Who really knows?
Have other thoughts on short-term loans? Know something I don't? Fill us in in the comments!