For the Chicago Fire, the 2018 offseason has started earlier than anyone would have liked. While half the league is worried about the playoffs, the Men In Red are now focused on improving the roster ahead of next year. The front office is already facing a number of dilemmas, with one of them surrounding the club captain.
There’s a growing sense that Dax could leave Chicago in a trade during the winter. There were rumors floating around earlier this year that Minnesota United made a move for him but that nothing came of it.
We all know Minnesota United are searching for a No. 6. Last week, they made a play for one of the league's best.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) July 18, 2018
Who? Find out... in my latest video. pic.twitter.com/7fTWzRWFiW
However, it did prove there was interest in him. With the season over and teams getting ready to make big moves, the Fire must make a decision: should they try to keep Dax or let him go?
If the Fire decide to move McCarty, they would be doing it a year early instead of a year late. Still regarded as one of the better defensive midfielders in the league, Chicago should be able to get plenty of assets in return for him. At 31 years old, Dax is approaching that age where players usually see a dramatic dip in form as time catches up with their bodies. There’s a real chance that the dip could come next season.
While no one in the squad could fully replace Dax, the Fire do have some young options at central midfield. There’s Djordje Mihailovic, recently recovered from a long-term injury to reclaim a regular spot in the Starting XI. Then there’s the creative spark known as Brandt Bronico, who might have been the team’s MVP this year and deserves a chance to start at the beginning of the next campaign. Mo Adams impressed many in his rookie campaign, and there’s a sense that if he’s properly nurtured and mentored the defensive midfielder could form the backbone of the team for years to come. And if the Front Office are able to bring in some capable defenders, Bastian Schweinsteiger could return to his favored position.
McCarty also, frankly, deserves better. It’s evident that the problems with the club on and off the pitch are starting to get to him, and there’s not much he can do about it. A player of his quality should be playing at the highest level. Just set him free. Give Dax the chance to finally win an MLS Cup— something he’s been chasing his entire career.
He’s frickin’ Dax McCarty.
If the Fire want to maximize their potential for short term success, they need to keep him on board. Dax brings a wealth of leadership skills as captain and a willing mentality— all things the Fire desperately need.
The core of this team is good enough, but their window of opportunity is starting to close. Basti— assuming he decides to come back next season, which isn’t assured— has one year left in him at most. Nemanja Nikolic will be turning 31 before the start of next season. Fans have started to lose faith in management’s ability to properly rebuild a roster, so if the club are going to decide to Win Now, their time to do that is right now. Even then, they’ll still need a few pieces— and hang on to the ones they’ve got.
And if the club does decide to move Dax, there’s every reason to believe this Front Office wouldn’t get sufficient value for him in a trade. The rest of the league, and an increasing number of clubs and agents abroad, know that this organization can be played for suckers. The Fire could very well lose a valuable locker room leader and capable on-pitch performer for little more than a 3rd round draft pick, $500k in allocation money, and a coupon for free chicken fries with any value meal purchase at Burger King.
All of a sudden, the age thing seems less scary.
The German Conundrum
At the end of the day, a lot of this hinges on what Schweinsteiger decides to do. Following the season finale against DC United, Der Fußballgott told media he would take some time to decide what to do next with his career.
At this point, it’s a 50/50 chance he makes either decision to stay or to go. Some reports during the season indicated that he’d be happy to return, but he’s 34 and has a baby on the way.
If Basti decides to stay in Chicago for one more year, the club would be in a Win Now situation and would need to keep McCarty on board to have any chance of success. If Schweinsteiger decides to call it a day and head home, the Fire would probably go under a full rebuild, which would make the decision to move Dax for some assets more sensible.
At this point, I don’t even know what I would do myself. Thankfully, I’m not the one calling the shots.
The Front Office will have to make a decision soon in order to avoid another slow start like this past season. With the way things have gone in the past, expect some sort of decision to come on Draft Day. Until then, fans will just have to wait and see.