The Christmas season is in full swing and so is the MLS offseason. After making some early moves at the end of 2022, the Chicago Fire are now in need of reinforcements ahead of the upcoming season. Let’s take a look at the positions that need filling, and some ideal candidates to fill those roles.
1. A right back (or two)
For the past three seasons, right back has not been a position of any concern for the Fire. Boris Sekulić had been a reliable, consistent presence, and he never missed any games through injury. However, his contract was not renewed at the end of 2022, so the Fire are not in desperate need of a starting right back, and ideally, it would be someone better suited to Ezra Hendrickson’s system than Sekulić was. Furthermore, last season’s backup, Jhon Espinoza, has been linked with a move to sister club Lugano. That would leave the first-team roster without any right backs at all.
Two natural options immediately come to mind. The first is Kyle Duncan, who was one of the league's better full-backs while playing with the New York Red Bulls in 2021. He spent the first half of 2022 in Belgium with Oostende but returned to New York on loan for the second half of the MLS season. It seems highly likely that he’ll be back in MLS in the new year, and luring him to Chicago could be a wise move.
The second is Bryan Reynolds, the once-highly rated right back prospect who set Roma back $10 million in 2021. Reynolds is currently on loan at Westerlo after failing to make any sort of impression for José Mourinho’s team, so a return to MLS seems logical. The Fire would have to go through the allocation order to sign him, and they are currently 3rd in that list and may need to trade up to #1.
2. A DP striker
If the rumor mill is to be believed, 18-year-old Colombian breakout star Jhon Durán won’t be in Chicago much longer, with clubs amongst the European elite knocking on his door. Thus, it would be no surprise to see the vacant third DP spot used on a top center forward to replace the wonderkid. During the 10-game winless run early in the 2022 season, it was the total lack of finishing ability from Kacper Przybyłko that ultimately cost the Fire points, and if Durán is to leave, a star striker needs to be introduced.
There are a number of strikers from overseas whose contracts are up in the next six months, and some are probably realistic. Longtime Colombian national team regular Luis Muriel is available, though he has had a rough start to the season with Atalanta in Serie A. Anthony “Choco” Lozano has also had a difficult year, but the Honduran striker from CF Cádiz in La Liga has quality and, with service, would be a good fit in MLS for a relatively low price. One more option, perhaps fantasizing a little bit more, is Olivier Giroud, France’s all-time leading goalscorer, whose contract is up this summer with AC Milan. It does seem like there’s a chance he’ll come to MLS at some point, and now 36, he could make that move sooner rather than later.
However, the ideal realistic number nine signing would come not from Europe but from Mexico. Henry Martín has been having the best season of his career for Club América, and he could easily be a 20+ goal striker in MLS. Coming off of scoring at the World Cup for El Tri, Martín would not be cheap, but he would immediately be one of the best strikers in Major League Soccer and would likely be worth every penny. It would certainly be a far better signing than his compatriot, Raúl Jiménez, who has been linked with a move to MLS in the past but is over the hill at 31 and struggling to regain his level following a serious head injury in 2020.
3. A Flashy U22 Winger
The Fire have one U22 initiative slot open, and filling it with a strong contributor should be a priority. Other than Chris Mueller, the Fire haven’t been playing any actual wingers out wide and have resorted to playing number 10s (Brian Gutiérrez, Jairo Torres) and full-backs (Jonathan Bornstein, Jhon Espinoza) there just due to the lack of options on the roster. While some of those, particularly Gutiérrez, can do a job there since it gets more good players on the field, it would also be beneficial to have players in their best positions, whether that be Xherdan Shaqiri flipped out to the right, or another winger brought in for 2023.
A wishful possibility for this role is another struggling American abroad in need of a return to the States; Konrad de la Fuente. The La Masia product is in search of a new club after registration rules prevented him from getting much playing time at Olympiacos on loan, and now, Marseille will be looking to move him on. MLS appears to be a possible destination.
Similarly, popular Mexican international Diego Lainez is also failing to get minutes at Braga in Portugal and would be a dream signing for MLS; still only 22 years old, he might be sold back to Europe in a year or two for a profit. Lainez could light up MLS with his dribbling ability, even if he has struggled to score goals over the last four years. Alternatively, there may also be some options in the South American market, in which Georg Heitz has been relatively successful in the past.