Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop made his first substantive roster signal of the offseason with the club’s Tuesday release of player options that have been picked up and declined heading into 2015.
Keeping in mind Yallop's quote, "We’re currently working towards new deals for several players who are out of contract or whose options have been declined and look to finalize those in the coming weeks,” here are my three takeaways from Tuesday's announcement...
Defensive Work to be Done
With 51 goals conceded, the Fire statistically weren’t the worst defense in the League or even the Eastern Conference in 2014, but the 15 goals allowed in the final 15 minutes of matches did see the club drop important points on the campaign. The stat certainly gives impetus for improvement.
With that in mind, seeing Bakary Soumare, Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Ianni on the declined list strikes a clear signal that the backline will be an area for Yallop and staff to address again this offseason. In the middle, Soumare and Ianni also took up a significant portion of cap space.
While it remains possible Soumare could re-sign at a lower number, the move seems to cement two things: 1) Jeff Larentowicz’s long-term position with the Fire looks to be on the back line and 2) Yallop and staff are in search of his starting partner as well as a solid third center back to replenish in 2015.
With Segares’ option also declined, the situation at left back also provides an interesting take after the Costa Rican veteran served as the club’s mainstay at the position for most of the last 10 seasons. While Greg Cochrane filled in for Segares early in the season, it seemed midfielder Alex became the fill-in choice late in the season.
While the Fire’s Brazilian utility player saw his option declined Tuesday, it’s likely he’ll fall into the pool of players that will probably be back with the club in 2015.
Though there's currently some cover at the position, it’s safe to say the Fire Technical Staff will be looking for another body to line up opposite returning right back Lovel Palmer in 2015.
Addressing the Attack
No huge surprises here as Mike Magee, Harry Shipp and Juan Luis Anangono were already guaranteed for 2015, Patrick Nyarko’s re-signing was announced earlier and Quincy Amarikwa’s return was a given after a breakout 2014 campaign.
That said, with Magee set to be out for the beginning months next season and Anangono’s status up in the air, there’s work to be done to supplement Amarikwa as the team’s lone forward option after Robert Earnshaw and Florent Sinama-Pongolle’s contracts were both declined.
While the veteran foreign strikers could return on re-negotiated terms, it will likely depend on what Yallop found in his recent trip to Europe as well as other offseason scouting efforts. Simply put, part of Yallop's offseason search will be to bring a player capable of playing the attacking midfield and second striker role.
Out wide, Sanna Nyassi’s inclusion on the declined list after just being acquired in the summer could make him another likely candidate for salary re-negotiation.
On the opposite wing, Grant Ward’s loan with Tottenham has come to an end but Yallop did mention on an episode of Chicago Fire Weekly last month the club is hoping to bring the 20-year-old winger back in 2015.
Goalkeepers Sure and Steady
Lastly, Yallop clearly signaled he’s happy with his goalkeeping corps. Sean Johnson continues as the club’s starter, while Kyle Reynish will return as the steady veteran backup after showing well in his late season appearance against D.C. United as well as in training throughout the year.
Third choice Alec Kann continues in his third season with the Fire after receiving significant playing time on loan with Charlotte in 2014.