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Have the Chicago Fire locked too many players into long-term deals?

There are a lot of big names potentially coming off the books after next season, but there are some questionable contracts, too.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Nashville SC
Fire Designated Player Ignacio Aliseda
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday marked one year since the Chicago Fire named Georg Heitz the club’s new sporting director. Since then, he and his staff have nearly reworked the entire roster. First, it was a race against the clock to frantically plug the numerous holes in the team before opening day 2020. Now, he’s in the middle of a slower process, working to reduce the team’s overall age, and hopefully find some new stars along the way.

With so many new players joining the team last season, and more new faces on the way this off season, many supporters are left wondering if Heitz has strapped the team with too many long term contracts. In other words, if this project doesn’t begin to work in 2021, are the Fire stuck?

The answer? Not really. There’s potentially quite a bit of roster wiggle room after the 2021 season, and most of the club’s longer contracts tend to be for younger players. Let’s take a look:

Players with a club option for 2022

Gastón Giménez, Robert Berić, Álvaro Medrán, Luka Stojanović, Elliot Collier, Nick Slonina, Kenneth Kronholm, Francisco Calvo, Mauricio Pineda

That’s two Designated Player spots and a ton of cap room that opens up after next year, if the Fire choose not to bring these guys back.

Players with expiring contracts after 2021

Jonathan Bornstein, Bobby Shuttleworth, Johan Kappelhof, Wyatt Omsberg

Here are four more guys who come off the books after next season, if they don’t end up reaching a new deal with Chicago. After a year of very little game action, it’s possible the Fire will look to trade Kappelhof before the 2021 season even begins.

Longer-term deals

There are 15 guys who are guaranteed for 2022 or beyond, but only two of them, Fabian Herbers (27) and Boris Sekulić (29), are older than 25. Sekulić has two years left on his deal, and it seems the Fire weren’t totally pleased with his performance in 2020, choosing to leave the right back unprotected in Austin FC’s expansion draft, and signing what could be his replacement, Jhon Espinoza, in the off season. Herbers is signed through the 2023 season, with a club option left for 2024.

The Fire’s third Designated Player, Ignacio Aliseda, is on a four year deal that runs through the end of the 2023 season. Aliseda didn’t have a terrible 2020, but it definitely wasn’t strong enough to warrant his DP deal. At only 20 years old, he was always going to be a longer-term project, but if he doesn’t have a breakout year in 2021, that contract will start to look like a bad one.

Moving Forward

Contract extensions aren’t handed out in a void. It’s not always whether a guy deserves a new deal, it’s whether the club feels there’s someone better to replace him. Now that Heitz has begun his second year, that’s the key: to constantly have feelers out on upgrades, and identify guys at the club who can move up the pecking order. With so many guys potentially leaving after next season, that process had better be well underway.