Over the past few weeks, the Chicago Fire have been linked with numerous attacking players that would be coming to Toyota Park with Finnish striker Juho Makela, Mexican attacking midfielder Sinha and Colombian Cristian Nazarit all being rumored to being wear Fire red in the near future.
One of the swirling rumors became reality Wednesday as the Chicago Fire announced the signing of the former Colombian youth international Nazarit, 20, joining the club on a free transfer from Independiente Santa Fe in his home land.
“He’s a pure number 9 striker that plays very high up,” said Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas. “A very strong player that has good pace and can play with his back to goal but also has good depth. When you provide service to him he’s very good in the air and has a very strong ability to shoot from distance.”
Perhaps unknown to most Fire supporters, the 6-1 striker made a name for himself in South America for his play with los Cafeteros youth sides, specifically the U17 age group that qualified for the 2007 FIFA U17 World Championships in South Korea.
During the 2007 CONMEBOL qualifying tournament in Ecuador, Nazarit bagged six goals, finishing third in the tournament in scoring while helping Colombia finish second behind only Brazil, helping the nation to just its fourth appearance in the U17 World Cup.
While at the tournament in South Korea, Nazarit led his team again, scoring three goals in four matches as Colombia fell 2-1 in the Round of 16 to eventual tournament champions Nigeria.
Following the tournament then national team boss Jorge Pinto Flores invited Nazarit to train with the Colombian Men’s National Team but the Cali product did not appear in any matches.
Spurred by his play for Colombia at the U17 World Championships, Nazarit moved to Bogota-based Independiente Santa Fe to start 2008, playing there intermittently while again playing a role in his nation’s qualification for the 2009 U20 World Cup.
Playing with current Fire defender Yamith Cuesta during the CONMEBOL qualifying tournament in Venezuela, Nazarit bagged an all-important penalty kick against the host nation in the final match of the first group stage which helped put Colombia into the final qualifying round. It was there that they missed out on the World Championships in Egypt, falling one point short of the final qualifying spot.
Nazarit returned to Independiente Santa Fe where he’s appeared in 42 matches and scored 16 goals from 2008-10.
His signing is yet another product of an expansive and unprecedented scouting mission which the club’s technical staff embarked on shortly after the end of the 2010 regular season.
Though results haven’t necessarily gone to plan so far, many of the players uncovered during the offseason trips have largely been improvements over their counterparts from last season.
Croatian defender Josip Mikulic has added strength to the back line while the Uruguayan tandem of Diego Chaves (currently tied for second in the league in goals) and Gaston Puerari have added far more danger to a Fire attack that left a lot to be desired in 2010.
As for where he fits into the scheme of things in an ever-increasingly crowded attack, Klopas thinks there’s a spot for him among the likes of Chaves and Puerari.
“For me Diego and Gaston are both players that like to come underneath and receive the ball,” Klopas said. “Cristian is more of a player that stays high up and gives us a very good point of reference. He’s also a player you need to provide service to in order to be effective.”
Given that quote, the 4-1-4-1 formation head coach Carlos de los Cobos put out in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Colorado which saw Puerari pushed back into midfield, may be a sign of things to come if the idea is to keep Chaves, Puerari and 2010 Fire Golden Boot winner Marco Pappa all on the field along with Nazarit.
“He gives us a different dimension because his strength and ability to play with his back to goal and also to get behind the back line, I think it’s going to give us a different way to attack and also a person with which we can be more direct in our attack.”
Another formation that could come about is Chaves and Puerari playing as supporting strikers to Nazarit in a Christmas tree formation at the top.
Either way, the signing indicates the Fire’s desire to continue to press the attack and I’ve yet to even mention the likes of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro…
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.