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Basti’s In, Cam’s Out: A Chicago Fire Roster Reset

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Depth needed in attack, midfield before Men in Red can settle into preseason

Matt frickin’ Polster y’all
The acquisition of Rafael Ramos could prompt Matt Polster to even greater heights, as well as giving the Fire more flexibility to move him infield.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The long-anticipated news that Bastian Schweinsteiger will extend his time with the Fire is certainly cause for celebration around the Men in Red. Let’s kick back and enjoy

Ok, moment’s over, gang. There’s still a whoole lotta work to do before CF97 kicks a ball in anger.

The depth chart (so-called)

Your Chicago Fire, as of this morning

Above you see a good-faith effort* to produce an accurate depth chart for the Fire as of January 18, based upon Velko Paunovic’s tactical predilections and the fellas who’re contractually obligated to show up for camp. (Disputation available in the comments.)

Kicking the Cam down the road

Long regarded as something of the crown jewel of the first iteration of the Fire Academy, Cam Lindley is a well-rounded, tactically astute deep-lying roving playmaker for the University of North Carolina. His specialty is springing lightning attacking moves through pinpoint, first-time passes from the deepest part of midfield - basically, exactly what Basti did for the Fire in 2017. In some other universe, he makes his bones in the Fire midfield putting the ball onto David Accam’s instep in full stride.

Not in this one, naturally. Look around you! Do you really expect the romantic thing to happen? Wrong universe, pally. Buck the f up.

So yeah, Cam didn’t tell MLS to get stuffed - he told the Fire, specifically, to pound sand. Orlando gave us Rafael Ramos and $100k in TAM for Cam. Which means, inevitably, that he didn’t want to go to Germany - he just didn’t want to play for the Fire.

<sniff>

Ok, that’s over. I’m ready to boo the kid. (Yes, this feels totally healthy - why do you ask?)

How Ramos changes the balance

It’s not hard to see that the midfield, especially, of this XI looks a wee bit old and injury-prone. Maybe Juninho’s physical issues are behind him, and maybe not; Basti showed late last season that he is going to need significant downtime and rotation to maintain fitness. Behind the Basti-Dax-Juni power trio is the willing but limited Drew Conner and virtually untested second-year man Brant Bronico.

Rafael Ramos is the guy apparently coming from Orlando City in the Lindley deal, and that acquisition immediately made the Fire deeper in two positions. Ramos is a pure attacking wingback, valuable for his ability to combine and cross the ball but prone to getting caught upfield. He’s Portuguese, but has a green card so counts as a domestic player. And his presence, in the case of a potential injury crisis in midfield, would free Matt Polster to return to his old stomping grounds in defensive midfield.

Not that you’d prefer Polster in the middle - he’s been a revelation at right back, swashbuckling and still stable. But the ability to move him infield and replace him with a like-minded player without moving stalwart Johan Kappelhof out of central defense is an important bit of roster flexibility.

Some depth in the back

I’ve listed Kappelhof without a backup simply because I believe he is the best centerback at the club by a wide margin, and is unlikely to take much time off outside of injury or suspension. The nice part is that there are three legitimate options alongside the Dutch marshal, which should result in sharpness due to competition.

It also opens up the tactical palette slightly if all four are healthy, allowing Paunovic to ponder variations on a 5-man backline if he wishes. That option could come in handy if, as we shall soon discuss, the Men in Red’s relative lack of attacking options becomes a serious issue.

Paging Mr. Winston Wolf

It’s still very early, obviously, and this roster is miles ahead of where any CF97 from the last handful of years was at this point. There aren’t several starting positions obviously waiting for someone to fill them. What problems exist are in the area of depth, which in professional sports roster-management usually means ‘disaster plans.’ Fortunately, Nelson Rodriguez has six weeks to address these concerns before league play begins.

What happens if Niko gets hurt? Or Accam? Or both?: Daniel Johnson’s first season with the Fire was truncated by injury, and Luis Solignac seems to prefer being third banana in an attack. The Fire are going to be a bit short-handed, naturally, as they await the return of Michael de Leeuw from injury, but reinforcements are absolutely necessary.

What happens if neither Lampson nor Sanchez look the part?: In perhaps the hardest-fought but least-anticipated position battle to come in the preseason, Matt Lampson and Richard Sanchez will seek to claim the starting keeper spot. But what if neither inspires confidence - as their career form indicates is entirely possible? Even with three keepers in camp, don’t be surprised to see N-Rod looking for help here.


*Of course there are some assumptions baked into this graphic that aren’t yet absolutely clear. Juninho is listed as a Fire player based upon second-hand reports that the sides are in negotiation, the club’s need, and the complete lack of any other reports about Juni’s options. Also, Rafa Ramos (reportedly acquired in the Cam Lindley deal, but not yet announced) is listed backing up Polster at right back, based upon multiple sources.