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.........
- 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
- 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.
- 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 Ljungberg assumed the central playmaking role as a withdrawn striker with some success but he tends to play similarly to both Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko.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.
- 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 Is he the withdrawn striker and playmaker that was missing for most of 2010?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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.