This season the Fire have added several important players which have been vital to breaking their two year playoff drought while becoming one of the hottest teams in MLS over the last two months. The additions of Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald, Alvaro Fernandez, and Alex all came after First Kick weekend and the club is hoping another veteran acquisition can contribute to a surge aimed at claiming the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Veteran striker Guillermo Franco has played in two World Cups for Mexico and should provide a different option for Frank Klopas at the forward position in addition to MacDonald and Dominic Oduro. Franco, at his best has shown himself to be a more accomplished finisher in the box than both players but he hasn't enjoyed much success recently.
At 35 years old and with diminishing production over the last several years it's fair to question whether or not the Argentine-born international has anything left in the tank. After starring for Monterrey from 2002 to 2005 Franco moved to Villareal in Spain where he struggled with injuries for parts of three seasons before making another move to West Ham in the Premier League. He scored 5 goals in 23 games during the 2009-10 campaign but yet another move landed him at Argentine club Velez Sarsfield. He played 18 games at Velez enjoying some success with 8 goals scored but injuries curtailed his production there as well.
During the winter tranfer window this past January, Franco found himself back in Mexico this time with Pachuca. After signing with the Mexican club another unlucky injury break derailed his season. An appendectomy in January which resulted in weight loss and a lack of fitness which made it difficult to adjust to the high altitude at Pachuca produced an umimpressive 0 goals in 12 games played. "In January 2012 I had a problem with my appendix. It was difficult because the season was advanced and I didn't have rest (recovery time) after the surgery for playing fully in training. I lost 4 kilos, which isn't good because Pachuca is at (high altitude of) 2300
feet meters so it was difficult," said Franco after the Fire's 3-1 victory over Montreal this weekend.
After being released Franco found himself looking at Major League Soccer as an option. Ironically, Montreal was one of the rumored destinations but maneuvering into MLS sometimes isn't as easy as it seems. "I had other options with different teams (in MLS) but it wasn't possible to go there at the time because they didn't have an international spot available," he explained.
The Fire, looking to add depth to the roster after transferring Marco Pappa to SC Heerenveen were in the market for reinforcements and had an international roster spot available. "After staying here in the United States I called Javier Leon and he told me they had a spot available because Pappa left. He said it was possible that I come here but he needed to talk with Frank (Klopas) in order to consider this option. He called me back and said okay, you can come but Frank and the team need to see you and see how you feel," said Franco of his initial contact with Chicago.
Franco began training with the Fire last Monday and with the roster freeze deadline approaching on September 15, Klopas and the coaching staff felt that his ability and experience were worth a look. "Guille" won't be a starter right away, he'll need to earn that distinction on the pitch but it seems the Fire are open to talking about 2013 if they see enough in him to merit an extension past this season. In much the same manner that Pavel Pardo joined the club last season Franco seems content to play for little in terms of salary this season as he proves he still has something left going forward.
He will get his first chance to play in a competitive match with his new teammates when the Fire Reserves take on FC Dallas at 10am at the Toyota Park practice field on Tuesday. "I plan to play Tuesday with the reserve team. I need rhythm in the games and it will be good for me to play some minutes. I was in training and training hard and my body feels good but I need (game) rhythm," said Franco. "I'm so happy for this opportunity in Chicago. It's a new experience for me and I'm excited to start playing with the team," he continued.
If Franco, who turns 36 in November shows that he's recovered from the health issues that have plagued him over the last several seasons and that he does indeed have a few miles left before calling it a career the Fire have picked up what could be a valuable piece of the playoff puzzle coming off the bench. If not, the club has filled a roster spot with an experienced veteran presence for last two months of the campaign.
It's worth a look.