When it was announced Shaun Maloney was coming to Chicago in 2015, there was a sense of optimism. After suffering through one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the thought of having a Premier League veteran in the center of the pitch creating offense was a welcomed change.
Pairing the Scottish international with speedsters David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike would surely make the Fire a fun offense at the least and a playoff-caliber attack at best. But as is often the case, dreams are dreams for a reason.
The reality is Maloney struggled to make an instant impact, taking some time to adjust to the style of play while also working through some minor injuries. There were glimpses of his greatness early on, such as in the game against Toronto in early April. Maloney delivered an exquisite assist to Joevin Jones and tallied a goal of his own in a performance that was befitting of a Designated Player. But he has also had clunkers along the way, failing to look like an MLS starter let alone a DP at times.
But now with two goals in the last two games, the Chicago Fire of England, aka Hull City, have reportedly coming knocking on the door to bring Maloney back to England.
This news, of course, set social media ablaze with opinions from the Fire faithful as to whether it would be a good move or not for the club. Forget the minor details such as how much the Fire would receive, if any other players would be involved, etc.; opinions were formed. It seems to be a black or white issue where fans are either for or against the move.
But Maloney’s time in Chicago has not been black and white. It has been very gray. The decision to keep him could be correct as could the decision to sell him. There are no sacred cows on a 6-11-4 team. No one is, or should be, untouchable.
Let’s take a look at the main factors surrounding the decision.
The U.S. Open Cup
This is probably the No. 1 reason to keep Maloney. The Chicago Fire’s season completely hangs on winning this tournament. A chance for a trophy and a place in the Champions League is almost unfathomable with the season the team has had, but it is all right there in front of them. Maloney makes the 2015 Fire a better and deeper team. With him, the chances to win the Open Cup increase.
We Still Don’t Know Who He Is
This could be a reason to sell or keep him, but the fact is Maloney is still a bit of an unknown. He has only made 12 MLS appearances and has dealt with injuries throughout his brief tenure. If he can become the player he is for the Scotland National Team with the Fire, then Hull City better bring dump trucks full of cash because that Maloney is dangerous and outstanding. But if he remains the injury plagued, inconsistent midfielder we have seen, then it could be better to sell while there is still interest or the club will risk falling into a Kennedy Igboananike situation where it needs to buy down a salary to make a potential move more plausible.
But, as Fire encyclopedia Jeff Crandall pointed out on Twitter, 15 of the Fire’s 22 points have come when Maloney and Accam share the pitch for at least 45 minutes.
This could be another reason to keep Maloney. In the brief stint with the team, it is clear Maloney is a player who thrives when surrounded by talented players. Maloney isn’t necessarily the kind of player that makes those around him better, but he certainly becomes more confident and aggressive with better players around him. Gilberto may be awful, we don’t know. But if he lives up to the potential Toronto FC fans claim he has and saw, then Maloney may be the best man to keep around to deliver those passes. A dangerous Gilberto would mean a Maloney with options as the Scot could keep defenses guessing by picking out Gilberto or Accam at any moment.
If the formation utilized in the 2-0 win over FC Dallas Sunday becomes the blueprint going forward, Maloney becomes much more expendable. Maloney did not have a bad game, but if he is going to be exiled to the left flank, his playmaking ability becomes severely limited. There is nothing Maloney did Sunday that I would not feel confident giving to Patrick Nyarko, who may actually be more effective in that role because of his speed. If the formation was more of a response to Dallas’ team speed and the plan is to keep Maloney centered against most opponents, then he is more valuable to the club.
There is plenty of time left for the Fire to make a decision on Maloney’s future. European clubs can bring in players until Sept. 1, meaning Chicago can play out the U.S. Open Cup semifinal before making a decision, if that indeed is a factor for the front office.
So, Deal or No Deal?