Top Ten Offseason Questions

Post season training will wrap up at Toyota Park next Friday ahead of the MLS expansion draft and an offseason chock full of big decisions to be made.  The next few months will provide an interesting stretch before players return for training camp in late January.  A lot of questions have been raised and few answers have been provided so far. 

Here's a look at my top ten burning questions heading into the offseason.........

  1. Does De Los Cobos return and continue to implement the system that was discussed before the season started?  Does the coach finally settle on a consistent line up?

               

It's pretty obvious that De Los Cobos will be back for the second year of his initial agreement so there's not much sense in discussing a head coaching change much further.  One of the main criticisms throughout the 2010 season was the coach's failure to settle on a consistent line up.  Whether it was due to injury, international absence, or poor play in general De Los Cobos rarely fielded the same side twice and when he did it was on short rest in Dallas resulting in an awful 3-0 loss.  The loss in Dallas followed an impressive 3-0 win in San Jose so the reasoning behind the line up choice at that point was apparent but even then another injury to John Thorrington prevented him from keeping the same unit together that worked so well against the Earthquakes.  The attractive/attacking soccer display that was discussed before the season began was rarely seen during 2010 and the additions made during this offseason will determine whether or not to continue playing the style of game that De Los Cobos is looking for.  The coach has to settle on a core of 7-8 players that are comfortable in the system and can be relied on to be available every match in order to start gaining some consistency.  De Los Cobos spent most of the first half of the year in 2010 trying to find the best mix.  He has to settle on the combinations when training camp breaks in March, not during the season.

 

  1. Who will be added up top to actually score goals?  Will the Fire pursue a natural finisher such as Juan Pablo Angel to replace Brian McBride?

 

Finding a quality #9 is not easy given the budget constraints in MLS.  If a designated player at the position isn't added to the roster finding that player is difficult but not impossible.  Real Salt Lake was able to add Alvaro Saborio during last year's offseason and Seattle found Fredy Montero in Columbia two seasons ago.  It's possible to find scorers within the league (Chris Wondolowski and Sebastien LeToux come to mind) but coming across guys like that involves a certain amount of luck.  Some of the big European names that may be available include the likes of Ruud Van Nistleroy and Roque Santa Cruz but it's unlikely the Fire go in that direction if Castillo and Ljungberg are both on the roster next season.  My guess is Angel stays on the east coast and signs for Philadelphia, New England, or DC since he now has roots in New York.  South America should be a gold mine for attacking players that can be successful in MLS.  Perhaps Mike Jeffries' scouting mission this fall will produce a sorely needed legitimate goal scorer. 

 

  1. Will the Fire pursue a playmaker in central midfield or will Freddie Ljungberg return to assume that role?

 

Finding a central playmaker should be the main focus during this offseason.  Unfortunately, finding true #10's in MLS may be more difficult than finding the aforementioned striker.  Ljungberg assumed the central playmaking role as a withdrawn striker with some success but he tends to play similarly to both Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko.  All three prefer to play with the ball at their feet and their first instincts are to dribble through or by defenders rather than act as the natural playmaker that should be the central distributor in the passing system that De Los Cobos has tried to employ.  We've discussed Clarence Seedorf here before.  His contract at AC Milan expires in June and he did express interest in playing in MLS this coming summer. 

 

  1. Does Nery Castillo return and where does he play?  Is he the withdrawn striker and playmaker that was missing for most of 2010?  If he is, where does Ljungberg play?

 

Castillo's loan deal runs through the 2011 season and he must show major improvement after being given an entire offseason to get back into form.  Not only for the good of the Fire but for the good of his career.  At 26, Castillo is at a crossroads.  For a myriad of reasons, he hasn't been in top form since 2007 and a failure in MLS will likely end any hopes of a new contract in Europe let alone with the Fire.  At best Castillo could fill the role that David Ferreira fills for FC Dallas as a playmaker from the withdrawn forward spot.  At worst he's an expensive substitute who did not play well when moved to left midfield when he managed to actually get on the field in 2010.  Further complicating matters is the fact that both Castillo and Ljungberg seem to be best suited to succeed as withdrawn forwards as opposed to central midfielders.  If both are on the field at the same time Ljungberg is likely to move to central midfield but that necessitates a formation change that the Fire are apparently not comfortable with.  A 4-4-2 with Castillo, Ljungberg, and a striker on the field will mean that Ljungberg would either play next to Pause centrally (as Lowry or Husidic do when paired with Pause) or ahead of Pause in a central diamond.  While Pause performed admirably in 2010, he is not suited to play alone at the back of a diamond ahead of the defenders in a league that is dependent on speed and physicality.  Both Lowry and Husidic excelled at times while sharing the central midfield duties with Pause since they could pick and choose spots to get forward while dropping back to help defensively.  Moving Ljungberg into this spot would not take advantage of what he does well either.  The jury is still out on the Castillo gamble.  Unfortunately his status affects what can be done while addressing the two most pressing problems at striker and central midfield. 

 

  1. Who replaces CJ Brown and possibly Wilman Conde in central defense?

 

Brown's leadership and professionalism will surely be missed and filling holes at central defense could be just as vital as finding offensive weapons that fit into the system, particularly if Wilman Conde finds a deal to his liking elsewhere.  Kwame Watson-Siriboe will get an opportunity to play but like most young players he has been prone to errors while learning on the job.  However, he has shown some promise and should factor into plans for 2011.  Klopas did express regret at not adding a central defender during the last offseason so I'd expect that acquiring another experienced defender will be a priority this year.  Jimmy Conrad is out of contract in Kansas City if the Fire chooses to look at possibilities within MLS but he'll be 34 going into next season.

 

  1. Will De Los Cobos have a say in his coaching staff hires now that Mike Matkovich has been let go? Will CJ Brown be added to the staff at some point?

 

The Fire have been pretty tight lipped about the assistant coaching search to replace Mike Matkovich and Alvaro Birones.  Matkovich was a holdover from Denis Hamlett's staff and the decision to release the top assistant implies to me that head coach and lead assistant may not have been on the same page throughout the year.  Given that Matkovich was in place when De Los Cobos was brought on board it will be interesting to see how much influence the head coach has in the next hire.  While CJ Brown continues to work with academy teams the Fire have apparently not approached him about a position on the staff at this point.  Brown would seem to be a natural fit as an assistant.  Should he be allowed to move on to another MLS team as an assistant coach, the Fire will surely face a public relations fiasco in light of the discontent currently festering among the fan base.  The Fire have improved greatly in repairing and maintaining the relationship with their fans over the last year and keeping Brown on board in some coaching capacity would seem to be a no-brainer. 

 

  1. How does Klopas address depth at left and right back now that Krol appears to be gone and Steven Kinney is recovering from an Achilles tear?

 

Krol's loan deal expires in December and he is intent on returning to Europe and Steven Kinney tore his Achilles in the final match of the season against Chivas USA so he may not be at 100% to start next season.  Dasan Robinson can fill in ably at center back or right back but he is also out of contract.  Gonzalo Segares is back for a full season but with Krol's departure and the future of Deris Umanzor up in the air, the Fire lack a back-up on the left side.  Klopas has done well to fill the right back spot with MLS veterans over the last few seasons (Prideaux and Ward) so that may be the avenue taken.  Bratislav Ristic filled in late in the season but he is a natural midfielder. 

 

  1. If Ljungberg and Castillo return is the Fire willing to use the third designated player slot at a premium?

 

A third designated player may not be in the cards right away, especially if Ljungberg exercises his player option and decides to remain in Chicago for another season.  That being said, Andrew Hauptman doesn't appear to be averse to spending the cash for a third DP if the right player can be found.  Finding a player who will fit in with Ljungberg and Castillo while optimizing the talents of each player is going to be tough considering that if you're going to spend the money required to bring in designated players you have to get them on the field.  If that player is a target striker the parts can fit.  If a central midfielder is the choice then some difficult decisions will need to be made.  Moving Ljungberg outside will cut into the development of Marco Pappa or Patrick Nyarko. 

 

  1. With the departure of Alvaro Birones, how will the offseason training regimen be altered to prepare players for training camp in 2011?

 

Judging by his comments late in the season, De Los Cobos seems to realize that something must change in the training schedule.  Choosing to replace his hand picked fitness specialist is a step in the right direction.  The Fire won't have SuperLiga or Champions League to worry about next season but an additional four league games should necessitate a fresh outlook on the duration and difficulty of daily training sessions.  The return of the Reserve League and additional roster spots will also help relieve some of the pressure if the Fire go through another epidemic of quad and hamstring injuries. 

 

  1. Did De Los Cobos lose the team at some point during the 2010 season? How does he get them to buy into the system going into 2011?

 

It's easy to say that a coach has lost the team when a season doesn't go well.  The Fire were in position to make a playoff move after going 5-5-5 before adding Ljungberg, Castillo, and Segares.  While there have been rumblings that some players stopped listening late in the season, the Fire remained competitive in most games all the way up to the end of the year.  Like every other non playoff team (and some playoff teams) there are sure to be players that don't buy into the system or don't particularly care for the coach.  That's a fact of life in professional sports.  Not everyone is going to be happy but they should be willing to put forth the effort as a professional when given the opportunity.  Now that the front office has stepped forward and shown confidence by allowing De Los Cobos to return in 2011 it's up to the coach to adapt, adjust, and apply the lessons learned from his first year in MLS. 

 

 

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  • The Offside Rules asks a question about Logan Pause.........

    http://theoffsiderules.blogspot.com/2010/11/real-shock-of-bradleys-roster.html

  • A #10 shirt with leadership skills should be a priority and a couple of decent backs as well. I fear it is going to be another long painful season next year, way too much turnover ahead. I am not convinced DLC is the coach to lead such a transition, I hope I am wrong but....

  • In reply to DerSting:

    Hopefully players like Nyarko, Pappa, Ljungberg, Pause, Segares, Kinney, and Watson-Siriboe return since they are now familiar with what they're trying to do. Another year of turnover will lead to another period of learning and a new #10 will need some time to mesh unless he's just phenomenal and starts training with them in camp.

    Ljungberg seems to get along very well with De Los Cobos so a veteran of his stature buying into the system will be important.

  • In reply to cesba:

    Blanco didn't need time to mesh.

  • In reply to fire1020:

    True.....if they can find somebody as good as the 2007 version of Blanco, he'll make it work.

  • In reply to cesba:

    I would love to see the fire at least go after a player of Van Nistelrooy's caliber. He's right up there with Beckham and Henry. I cannot see Castillo and ljungberg up there alone.

  • In reply to cesba:

    When is the expansion draft? I have a feeling we are going to lose 2 players this season and they will be better than Myrie. I bet Lowry gets picked and maybe Husidic or Banner. I see our protected list as Conde, Castillo, John, Kinney, Ljungberg, Nyarko, Pappa, Pause, Ristic, Segares, Robinson or KWS. That leaves Banner, Lowry, Husidic, either Robinson or KWS, Thorrington all available. Anyone of those players would be good to pick up in a draft. If Conde doesnt resign then I think we should save both Robinson and KWS because if we dont, one of them could get picked and thats not really a chance I would like to take.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    November 24. I'll have something on the expansion draft soon.

  • In reply to cesba:

    longoria mentions the 9th pick?? Wasn't the fire the 6th worse team and therefore will have the 8th pick with the expansion teams. Typcal Fire, low pick year and 2 expansion picks. I agree with der sting, an other very bad year ahead. If Klopas doesn't have several interesting signings well before the season begins we are screwed. This squad needs a half dozen good players added just to be competitive

  • In reply to Celt:

    1. Vancouver
    2. Portland
    3. DC United (22 pts)
    4. Chivas USA (28 pts)
    5. Philadelphia (31 pts)
    6. New England (32 pts)
    7. Houston (33 pts)
    8. Toronto (35 pts)
    9. Chicago (36 pts)

  • In reply to Celt:

    We are not that bad. We just couldn't put the ball in the net consistently. Going into the new season without signing Conde we could start

    ----------John----------------
    Pappa-----Castillo-----Nyarko
    ---Freddie?/Thorrington------
    -----------Pause-------------
    Sega---KWS----Robinson--Kinney
    ----------Johnson-------------

    That is not a terrible lineup to have. I dont see where we would need to find 6 new good players to be competitive. That lineup could win alot of games in this league. Sure it would be nice to get a good, solid, center back and true goal scorer but that is what every team in the world is trying to find also. Hopefully we find the goal scorer and KWS plays like Soumare did in his second season with us. We have atleast 500k in cap space from McBride and Brown leaving so there is room to make moves but that lineup is better than decent in MLS.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    The Fire do need some new players and I don't want to see guys Thorrington, Carr, Banner and Krol. I am not sold on John and Castillo on this team and it is now or never with those two. I would like to see Freddie Ljungberg back if they can't find any other options outside the MLS. KWS will be the starter and Robinson will be kept for insurance since Kinney torn his ACL and don't forget Ristic in that mix.

  • In reply to longoria3:

    Sure you dont want to see guys like that but you also need to remember that this is MLS and there are not players that are flocking to be here. Castillo will be will us for the entire season next year. Everyone needs to get over that. Robinson is a solid defender in this league and it would be great if we got him back to the team. Sure Banner played terribly this season but he is also a decent player in this league too. If we leave him unprotected he will probably be taken by either of the teams in the expansion draft. Right now John is our best forward on the roster. He is a pretty good player and Im ok with him starting day 1. I think we will be fine and things aren't that bad.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Joe,
    Did you just actually compliment Banner? ;)

    Depending on what the 2 expansion teams are looking for it's very possible that the Fire could lose a decent MLS quality player like Banner or Lowry.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    FC dallas just smashed in the Galaxys face tonite

    they look pretty good to win the MLS cup next week.

    i think i said something about FC dallas a few weeks ago right before the playoffs started... anyone remember ;)

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Dunord says Eric Wynalda could be in line for the Chivas USA job. Not sure what type of coach Waldo would be but he would be highly entertaining on the sideline for sure.

  • Those questions will be answered pending what Klopas does in the offseason by protecting players for the expansion draft, re-entry draft and the MLS Superdraft. Reading the Re-entry draft rules was hurting my eyes; it was like trying to learn klingon. I need a clear explanation on the 2 re-entry drafts. With the Superdraft, if he is available with the 9th pick, they should go after Indiana William Bruin. He scored a goal today for them vs. Penn State in Big Ten soccer tournament with Chris Doran doing color commentary. I would be perfect wearing the men in red especially they are very thin at the forward position. For De Los Cobos, if he has a legitimate attacking midfielder and center midfielder, I would prefer him to use the 4-5-1 formation.

  • In reply to longoria3:

    Klingon is easier.

  • I don

  • In reply to Fuegofan:

    That situation is very possible.

  • Interesting reading. While you hope Castillo and Ljungberg perform well, it makes for some real lineup difficulties. They're good for the box office, though.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    I think the plan was to play Castillo as a forward and Ljungberg as a center mid when they got them so the resolution should be pretty interesting.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    Very interesting article on the Fire Academy

    http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/2617/youth-soccer/2010/11/12/2211425/en-route-a-look-inside-chicago-fire-academy

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