Oh what could have been. A season filled with promise that has not only failed to live up to expectations but has also turned ugly as supporters have started to call for massive club changes. It’s been a long, winding, downward spiral, but perhaps nothing sums up the disappointment as succinctly as Thursday’s transaction.
Shaun Maloney, the club’s highest paid player and the symbolic signing of a brighter day, has been sold to Hull City for an undisclosed fee.
The move was widely expected and is probably the best decision for the club to make at this point. Frank Yallop said Maloney cited "personal" reasons in his desire for the move and I can easily believe that if previous reports about Maloney longing for a move weeks ago are true. Athlete or not, home sickness is a real thing and moving to an entirely different country isn’t always as exciting and cool as it looks. Maloney probably thought Chicago was a great city and would be a fun fit, but transitions can be hard and professional struggles make it no easier.
With all that said, best wishes to Maloney both personally and professionally as he heads back to England.
But this really does speak to the disastrous turn this season took. Yallop mentioned to Fire beat reporter extraordinaire Orrin Schwarz that he wanted Maloney to stay forever. I am sure he did. The fact the relationship and experiment fell apart so quickly was unexpected by all, including supporters who were quite excited when the signing was announced in early 2015.
Maloney was to be the creative force and centerpiece of a revamped attack that included the lethal speed and striking of David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike. Maloney would only make a young star like Harry Shipp that much more dangerous. With Maloney, supporters could finally move on from the Blanco-era and look forward to a resurrection.
None of that ever happened.
Maloney took some time early on to adjust to the physical, often choppy play of the MLS. And perhaps just as he was getting comfortable, nagging injuries struck, causing him to miss time. The Scottish international also had responsibilities with his national team in Euro qualifiers, further distancing him from the club and making it harder to integrate into his new surroundings.
By the time the transfer was confirmed Thursday, Maloney had logged a total of 14 MLS games, scoring three goals and notching two assists. To rub a little salt in the wound of what could have been, Maloney has scored four goals in six games during Euro qualifiers for Scotland.
So the Fire say goodbye to another false savior. Now Chicago is left with a Designated Player spot, money and an international slot with the world in front of them. But all of that will have to wait until 2016.
In the meantime, the keys are handed back to Harry Shipp who has a chance to try and regain some of his 2014 form in the final stretch of the season. Can any foundational chemistry be developed between Shipp, Accam, Igboananike and Gilberto? The answer to that will go a long way in determining how the 2016 Fire look. And answering that question is about the last goal the Fire have to play for in this season.
Bon Voyage, Wee Magician. I won’t really miss you all that much, but I think Kevin Egan probably will.