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Fire News You May Have Missed Over The Holidays

With the MLS SuperDraft a week away and preseason around the corner, we round up some of the big news stories from the winter break

MLS: Columbus Crew at Chicago Fire Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Did you miss us?

Hot Time is back from our winter vacation— and not a moment too soon.

The 2019 MLS SuperDraft is just one week away. HTIOT will have extensive on-site coverage of the Draft, plus other happenings from the United Soccer Coaches conference at McCormick Place.

But while while we were enjoying our vacation, all was not entirely quiet in our corner of 71st and Harlem. Here’s what you may have missed while you were busy basting the Christmas goose in Malort.

The complete restructuring of the backline

The Fire said goodbye to almost their entire backline this past offseason. They declined the option on presumptive starting centerback Jonathan Campbell. Brandon Vincent retired from the sport, as did Christian Dean. And while not official yet, Matt Polster seems to be on his way out of the country.

This means that all that’s left of the backline from both last year and their third place 2017 campaign is the out-of-contract Johan Kappelhof. [UPDATE: And Kap might be on his way out the door too.]

They’ve started putting in pieces of this year’s back line together. With their first big signing of the transfer window, they acquired Brazilian centerback Marcelo from Sporting CP to (presumably) pair with Kappelhof. That just leaves the two outside back spots to fill, and they still have some time. Expect that to be the focus of this year’s draft selections (although personally, I feel the best draft strategy is to draft the best available player).

The biggest blow for the Fire here is the presumed loss of Matt Polster. He’s a proven quality right-back, and was defensively getting better, even through the difficulties of last year. If he does go to Rangers, he has a chance at playing in the Champions League if they manage to finish ahead of Celtic. It will be sad to see him go, but if he manages to play in the most glamorous competition in the world, that’s clearly a step up in profile for him, and I hope he succeeds.

As for Jonathan Campbell, personally, I never really rated him as high as some others. He was clearly not bad, but at the same time, I always thought he was replacement level, or average. That they were able to get some return on him going somewhere else should be viewed as a positive. But the level of confidence in the FO is so low that a lot of the fanbase can’t see anything good from the assets acquired. I can’t really blame them.

The Lion finds a new hunting ground

In what is perhaps the least surprising news of the off season, Michael De Leeuw will not be returning to the club. MdL is heading back home to The Netherlands, having signed a contract with FC Emmen (currently sitting in 13th place in the Eredivisie).

This very much feels like a win win move for both sides. MdL was never going to be a starter here. Pauno’s preferred style of play, couple with the emergence of Djordje Mihailovic (more on him in a bit), have turned MdL into a bench player. His passion and ability are deserving of being a starter, and hopefully he gets that back home.

For the Fire, it frees up some roster and cap space for players in more pressing positions of need; namely, wingbacks and another starting winger to play opposite of Alexander Katai. Which, if the rumors are to be believed, would come in the form of young Argentine winger Martin Ojeda.

Veljko gets a contract extension

Veljko Paunovic is back.

The club announced yesterday that Pauno has signed a two-year contract extension with a club option for 2021.

I’ve gone on record admitting that I’m as a flip-flopper on Pauno. Seemingly week-to-week, I would switch from wanting to keep him to wanting him gone. I still don’t have a concrete opinion, as both sides have valid arguments.

On the one hand, you can’t argue with the numbers. Pauno has been less than stellar. He has a PPG of 1.16 and a record of 31-46-25. But on the other hand, I know there’s a good manager in there. We saw it in 2017 when they were fighting for the Supporters’ Shield and only petered out due to injuries down the stretch. I think we forget that this is his first real coaching job at senior level. I don’t think two more years is a big ask to see if he can improve more, with hopefully more help and better personnel from the front office. I’m not as upset with this move as others, and am just waiting to see what happens.

Djordje goes to Camp Cupcake

Djordje Mihailovic has been invited by new USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter to the traditional January Camp for Domestic Players. The invite to camp, being held shortly before international friendlies with Panama and Costa Rica, could provide an opportunity for Mihailovic to earn his first national team cap.

This is good. It means that the Fire academy has produced someone that is at least fringe international quality. This is the kind of good news that can bolster a player’s confidence, and being in that camp can help improve him dramatically before the start of the 2019 season. The Fire will be so much better for it.

So that’s what’s been going on in #cf97 land since our winter vacation. 2019 is here and Hot Time is getting ready. To paraphrase Jay Bilas: “We gotta go to work.”