The Men in Red lost two out of their three designated players in 2016, Kennedy Igboanike underperformed and was sold to D.C. and Giblerto got sent back to Brazil for family reasons. Chicago Fire fans greeted new DP Nemanja Nikolic at O’hare airport as he walked off of his long flight from Warsaw Poland. The arrival of a new designated player means it must be preseason. The preseason training camp starts today and there are 30 players that are on the Chicago Fire preseason list but don’t assume that this is what we will see in March. Chicago has a few things to deal with before they finalize their roster; they are over the eight international spots allotted by the league, they have not yet signed any draft picks, there are many trialists, and even academy players practicing with the team. Although it is not finalized, it is shaping up. With the majority of the lineup already decided going into camp, let’s see how close this roster is to the playoffs.
Goalkeepers: Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland*, Matt Lampson, Mihajlo Miskovic+
Defenders: Drew Beckie^, Jonathan Campbell, Matej Dekovic*, Patrick Doody, Michael Harrington, Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, Boyd Okwuonu^, Brandon Vincent
Midfielders: David Accam, Arturo Alvarez, Brandt Bronico*, Drew Connor, Collin Fernandez, John Goossens, Daniel Johnson*, Juninho, Dax McCarty**, Djordje Mihailovic+, Matt Polster
Forwards: David Arshakyan, Michael de Leeuw, Guillermo Delgado*, Nemanja Nikolic, Luis Solignac, Joey Calistri
*Unsigned SuperDraft Pick
+Chicago Fire Academy Player
**On International Duty
The goalkeeper situation is interesting, it looks to me like they are giving Matt Lampson another year to develop and they want to see what he can learn from veteran keeper Jorge Bava. Bava has all of the technical and footwork skills that Nelson and Pauno keep talking about. The down side is he’s entering his late 30’s and might end up becoming more of a mentor to Lampson and Cleveland rather than being the starting keeper we paid for. It is questionable to spend a large amount of money on an international keeper if he is not a lock to start but we should reserve judgement until we have actually seen Bava at work. The experimental draft pick, Stephan Cleveland is given a chance to prove himself and see if he has the potential to be a franchise goalie for the future. Cleveland has shown fantastic distribution skills and the ability to control the pace of the game, both are very important attributes to make it to the next level. Mihajlo Miskovic is an academy player that seems to be challenging Cleveland but will more than likely end up at Northwestern this fall.
The defense stays pretty much the same. The young group was very impressive at times in 2016 but the problem was the inconsistency. This inconsistency came with many different combinations of defenders and it being a mostly rookie backline. Chicago is still looking for depth and hopefully a starting right back to push Johan Kappelhof inside, he’s a center back. Young defenders Jonothan Campbell and Brandon Vincent showed real potential and held a solid backline for most of their rookie season. A full year under the belt for both of them hopefully means more consistency. Patrick Doody, Michael Harrington and most notably Joao Meira round out the returning players. Expect Joao Meira to have the biggest impact out of this group, especially if no right back reinforcements come in soon. Drew Beckie, Matej Dekovic, and Boyd Okwuonu come in unsigned to try and build some depth to the roster.
The midfield is where the major reconstruction needed to happen and there is now a lot of depth in central midfield. It is weird to think that Matt Polster will most likely start on the bench. It is not his best position but he could possibly fill that right back role. It is more likely that he will be part of a midfield rotation but with the additions of Juninho and Dax McCarty, he will be third on the depth chart. In addition, one of the few scoring threats last season was David Accam who usually plays on the left flank. Opposite of Accam, on the right flank, there is a bit of a gap. The probable starter at this point would be Arturo Alvarez but John Goossens, and Daniel Johnson will create competition in a spot that the Fire should be scouting for their final DP. The good news is that last season Alvarez was a strong point in the attack but this season he seems to be the weak point. Brandt Bronico is still fighting for a contract while Drew Connor and Collin Fernandez will probably be sent to Tulsa in order to get constant playing time. Lastly, Mihalovic is expected to agree upon a homegrown contract soon or else he will be on his way to UNC joining fellow Chicago Fire academy prospects, Cameron Lindley and Mauricio Pineda.
Up top is Michael de Leeuw, a secondary attacker who will most likely be used as more of a Central attacking midfielder. We will see if de Leeuw is capable of providing that last ball and connecting the midfield to Nemanja Nikolic. Nemanja Nikolic was the biggest acquisition this winter. King Niko had an astronomical scoring record in the Polish league and Chicago stole his signature away from EPL side Hull City. Luis Solignac provides competition and the option of a hold up striker. Guillermo Delgado is still working for his contract. If he does get one, expect him and Deerfield’s Joey Calistri to be used as last minute substitute strikers to inject pace and energy into the game. Last but not least is the fan favorite, David Arshakyan. Arshakyan received a lot of criticism in his few minutes on the field at the end of last season. However, I am not quiet ready to push David aside, he is a young foreign forward with a big upside that joined the team midseason. I will wait to see if he can impress at the beginning of the season now that he has adjusted to the team, country, and league.
Overall Chicago probably will wait until next winter in order to figure out a quality franchise keeper. The same can be said about the creative midfielder if de Leeuw ends up needing to be pushed higher up the field. Expect Chicago to still use the preseason and coming months to figure out the right back and right wing positions.
-The new away jerseys are rumored to be Grey and should be announced soon.
-Interviews are ongoing to replace Logan Pause as an assistant coach.
-Mix Diskerud has been left off of the NYCFC preseason roster and seems to be too pricey for another MLS team to be interested.
-Quote of the day:
“I think if we can find a good midfielder to add to the Mix (Diskerud), we would do so”. – Veljko Paunovic