The Chicago Fire have been known for missing out on big name acquisitions. Article after article after article has been written on the front office’s inability to close out a deal, with it becoming a running joke of sorts nowadays. However, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, and it seems like one recent move has become to look like a shrewd signing for the Fire.
In July the club announced it had brought in Raheem Edwards from the Montreal Impact in exchange for $400,000 worth of Targeted Allocation Money. It was the third time the Canadian had moved to a new club following a hectic offseason. Ending last season in Toronto, Edwards was taken by LAFC in the expansion draft, before immediately being sent to Montreal in a trade that saw Laurent Ciman go the other way. He had played well enough up to that point in the season, getting consistent minutes and grabbing a few goals, but other factors prevented him from making a real impact with the team.
The signing did not receive much fanfare at first due to what was going on with the club off the pitch at the time, shifting attention away from the squad and toward the Front Office.
The Fire have also have a middling record with midseason acquisitions, which means fans have gotten used to seeing signings like Edwards flop. Names like Khaly Thiam, Sanna Nyassi, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, and Nery Castillo have come into the team in the middle of the season and failed to meet expectations. With a track record like this, fans were right to be skeptical.
It might’ve been far from the ideal situation to come into, but Edwards was able to show promise right off the bat. In his club debut a few days after his signing, Edwards bagged an assist on the Fire’s only goal of the game, hitting a volley across goal for Nemanja Nikolic to head home. He’s played a key role in the team’s late turnaround in recent weeks, grabbing another assist in the 4-0 rout of Orlando last month and scoring his first goal for the Men In Red against DC United this past weekend.
He might still be pretty young, but the 23-year-old has already demonstrated his value. Edwards played a crucial role for Toronto FC last season in their march to winning the MLS Cup. He wasn’t a starter, but he brought some much needed depth to a squad that needed to go the distance. He played 21 league games in 2017, picking up a goal and six assists. Edwards got his best chance to shine during the Canadian Championships, starting both legs of the Final and assisting Sebastian Giovinco’s title-winning goal in the final minute of the second leg. With him in the side, head coach Greg Vanney knew he could rest his star names because he had faith that Edwards could pick up the slack.
Now he’s ready to become a starter in Chicago. The talent is there. The versatility is there. The need is there. The Fire suffered a keen loss of pace trading David Accam in the offseason, a weakness that opponents have exposed time and again this season. Teams knew players like Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai wouldn’t be a threat on the counter, which meant they could keep a high line. With Edwards, the Fire have regained their ability to pressure opposition defenders.
With the Accam trade— combined with Michael De Leeuw’s injury— the Fire spent much of this season without a reliable and productive third attacking option to play alongside Nikolic and Katai. Luis Solignac was not able to fill this role, owing to both injury and poor form. De Leeuw has sometimes played out wide since coming back from his injury, but it’s clear that he plays best in a central role. Diego Campos and Elliot Collier were unable to secure a regular starting slot as wide attackers. While Edwards did well as a fullback and wingback for Toronto and Montreal, it’s clear now that he’s done his best work for the Fire in the attacking third.
Many of the Fire’s midseason signings failed to adapt to this squad’s needs and perform up to snuff. It’s clear now that Edwards is a welcome exception. If he’s already shown such promise, just imagine how good he’ll be next year after a full preseason in Chicago.