With one of the smallest current rosters in the league, the Fire were one of only two teams without players on Friday’s list of available players for Wednesday’s Re-Entry Draft.
Some of the big names left available from other teams that could fill the roles Klopas mentioned he was targeting include attacking talent in New York’s Juan Pablo Angel, Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas) and the aforementioned Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus).
Veterans Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City), Cory Gibbs (New England) and Nick Garcia (Toronto) could be attractive pickups on the defensive side if the team is willing to pay what their previous clubs deemed as too much in salary.
Though kickoff of the 2011 MLS season seems far away, the next two Wednesday’s re-entry procedures will serve as already the third phase of player acquisition for the Fire. Depending on what, if any, players are selected by the club from those events, Klopas and his staff will begin to triangulate the first team’s biggest needs once foreign talent becomes free in January.
Soon after, the MLS SuperDraft will be knocking down the door, and though that selection process isn’t always a surefire way of gaining talent, the Fire did sign four of their five selections from this year’s edition – three of which, Sean Johnson, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Steven Kinney – logged significant minutes and experience in their rookie campaigns.
Before you know it, the guys will be back in training camp here in Chicago.
Though preseason plans are not completely finalized for the first team, Klopas outlined most of the itinerary.
“Overall preseason is going to be about seven weeks leading up to our first game. We’ll spend the first 10-14 days here in Chicago [at the refurbished Bridgeview Sports Dome]. We’re still working on plans for the second phase of preseason. The third phase we’ll be in Charleston for the Carolina Challenge Cup [joining hosts and USL-Pro side Charleston Battery along with D.C. United and Toronto FC], which gives us a good opportunity to play against some stronger opponents leading up to the final week of preparation before our first game.”
There may also be a stop to visit one of the Chicago Fire Juniors affiliate clubs located in Mississippi, Louisiana or Florida.
With the addition of two new clubs and four games to the MLS regular season schedule for 2011, MLS First Kick is moving up almost two weeks to start around March 19. In turn, it looks like the players will be back in Chicago earlier this year, likely beginning training camp during the last week of January (they began February 1 this year).
Goals for 2011
While there are many factors still to be played out, both men have high expectations for the club’s improvement in 2011.
“I have expectations for the team as a whole,” said Klopas. “I think we need to be in the playoffs – that’s the goal. It’s easy to say ‘winning a championship’, but you have to put yourself in the position to do so. Our first goal is getting back to the playoffs and then to win our conference championship. In one game in the final -- we saw Colorado win this year – who would have thought that at the beginning of the year? Obviously being healthy and peaking at the right moment are key. For me the goal is to be in a position to win the championship and to do that we need to be in the playoffs.”
Leon echoed Klopas’ playoff and championship goal, specifically mentioning an edict from Andrew Hauptman.
“We have a great structure in place to put together the best possible squad for next year. I know that Frank and everybody here think about this team all the time. It’s a constant debate, thinking calling people and one of the things Andrew has charged us with is to leave no stone unturned, so we’re using our resources, looking everywhere to put together a group of players that can give us the best opportunity of returning to the playoffs and competing for a championship.”