You could call it "the" word of 2009 for the Chicago Fire. Whether it was Technical Director Frank Klopas, a coach, a player, or a regular staffer, you couldn't get out of Toyota Park without having to sit through yet another explanation of just how important - and strong - the depth of the team was.
And you couldn't really blame Fire personnel for harping on the strength of the team's entire roster. After all, whether it was due to injury, suspension or transfer, nearly every player on the squad stepped into the starting lineup and performed last season at some point.
But with several players transferring overseas, one retiring, and the contracts of several more expiring, the Fire headed into this offseason wondering if next year's squad would be as talented at the bottom as it was in 2009. Some of those concerns were put to rest two weeks ago, when it was announced that Brian McBride, C.J. Brown and Marco Pappa would be back for 2010. But the work isn't done for the Fire, who will be looking to expand on the squad throughout the remainder of the offseason.
"The most important thing is the group," Klopas said. "The more that you can build a team and make it stronger and better and deeper [the better]."
One of the main ways the Fire will be looking to build their team is through the MLS SuperDraft. The Fire has three picks (the first one being the 13th) in the annual draft, which will take place on January 14th.
"The draft is very important," Klopas said. "You've got to be able to replace the crucial parts of the team. We need a forward, someone in the midfield and another solid guy in the back."
Klopas, who said (without naming names) he has "certain guys who he's targeted" in the draft, will no doubt look to free agency to build his squad as well - possibly even looking overseas for a Designated Player target.
A MLS star who the Fire could reach out to is Guillermo Barros Schelotto, currently of the Columbus Crew. The Crew recently asked the 36-year-old Schelotto, whose contract expires at the end of the year, to take a big pay cut and he expressed his unhappiness with the idea.
However, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, regardless of whether the 2008 league MVP resigns with Columbus the Crew will still hold his MLS rights for 2010. Thus, should the Fire wish to acquire the Argentine forward, they will have to trade for him.
"Columbus still has his rights so I don't want to be saying anything too much," Klopas said. "I can only tell you that the guy's an experienced and good player. He's done very well in this league and for the Crew. But we don't have his rights so I'll just leave it at that."
The Fire isn't purely looking externally to bolster their squad this offseason though. Klopas is expecting several players - including Mike Banner and Daniel Woolard - to expand on their 2009 roles next season.
"They've been around and they both have stepped in and done a very good job," Klopas said of Banner and Woolard. "You always expect more and I think they have the capability of giving more."