At Raphael Wicky’s weekly Zoom news conferences this preseason, there’s one question the Chicago Fire head coach is almost always asked. The regulars got the question out of the way weeks ago, but it still comes up when new reporters join the calls.
To Wicky’s credit, he answers it every time, without complaint. But, it must wear on him, because behind the question is an implication that something isn’t right.
Are you happy with your roster? Will there be more signings? Does the team need help after the recent injuries to Stanislav Ivanov, Fabian Herbers, Elliot Collier, and Carlos Terán?
Here’s how Wicky answered the question last Thursday:
No, I said it a few weeks ago, that I’m very, very happy with my roster. We were done with our roster. Of course, the club always looks for players, always has the eyes open.
Now, unfortunately, we have these injuries which you can’t plan for. But we know that Stanislav (Ivanov) is one that takes longer than the others. Hopefully the others will be back at one point (soon). With all of these players back, I’m very, very happy with the depth of the roster, with the quality of the roster.
Now, again, I think it was three weeks ago those guys were not injured, and I was very, very happy. Right now we have these injuries so it makes you a little bit thinner. But, there’s also the rules here. You cannot go and buy every time new players.
I’m happy with the roster. I hope that these guys come back sooner than later. Then I believe we have a strong roster.
Let’s start with the injuries. Ivanov is a big one. He had knee surgery, and probably won’t be back until the second half of the regular season. For a guy who was supposed to provide a lot of speed and creativity in the attack, this one hurts. Herbers said on his podcast recently that he’s probably going to miss the April 17 home opener against the New England Revolution, but he should be healthy not too long after that. Collier’s ankle injury is apparently coming along nicely, and he might be ready for the Revs match. Wicky didn’t know a whole lot about Terán’s quad injury last week, but seemed hopeful it’s wasn’t serious.
Can the team win without these guys? It will depend on who steps up. Will Ignacio Aliseda play up to his Designated Player contract? Will Luka Stojanović deliver the attacking punch he was signed to add last season, before his injury? Will Robert Berić avoid a goal scoring slump? Can Chinonso Offor add scoring off the bench? And, defensively, are Francisco Calvo and Mauricio Pineda, after being away from the team for a few weeks, ready to anchor a mistake-free defense?
If all of those answers are yes, then the Fire should be fine, especially considering the schedule is heavily front-loaded with home matches.
But then there’s the larger question: Even before the preseason injuries, was this team good enough to actually, truly compete in 2021? Not just sneak into the playoffs, but actually compete for a Supporters’ Shield or an MLS Cup? It’s MLS, so crazy things can happen, but that seems like a stretch, at least for this season.
So, it doesn’t seem like another signing is coming, at least right away. But if the Fire can take advantage of the team’s home matches and go on a run early in the year, and the salary cap room is there to bring someone in, maybe Georg Heitz makes a splashy summer signing. To me, this team needs at least one more star. But, Heitz has always seemed like a guy who wants to create stars—not buy them—and maybe one of these young signings is ready for a breakthrough.
We’ll have a clearer picture soon enough. The home opener is only 12 days away.