The Fire have apparently made a move to bolster the squad with an international striker during the July transfer window and are close to finalizing a deal for 24 year old Ecuadorian Juan Luis Anangonó. It's not the high profile acquisition that many had hoped for and it's not exactly the established impact player with a proven record of success that is probably needed to elevate the club into more than just a playoff contender. What it is, is another relatively low risk Designated Player gamble with a forward who isn't a sure thing as an impact player by any means. The major difference this time is that Anangonó is young enough to have an upside and has had at least one season where he produced goals in large numbers. He has a chance to become that impact player.
His best year came in 2011 with Ecuadorian side El Nacional where he scored 22 goals over 45 contests. That was it in terms of impressively big seasons. He followed that up with 8 tallies over 28 matches in 2012 before being loaned out to Argentine club Argentinos Juniors. In his lone season there (teams play 2 phases similar to Mexico) he scored 5 times over 32 appearances. It's not exactly the kind of production that gets anyone worked up with excitement and it's difficult to say how his game will translate to MLS but as always we'll have to wait and see how he adjusts before making a final judgement on the move. Without the benefit of watching Ecuadorian soccer and not seeing many international acquisitions in live action outside of the "big" leagues that we're all exposed to in the States we should wait before making a snap judgement on whether or not he's worthy of a DP deal. We can however, take a look at what we do know.
The spotlight will certainly be on Anangonó to produce in the same manner that it has been on last year's mid-season attacking addition, Sherjill MacDonald. The Designated Player tag ensures that the individual is occupying a considerable amount of budget space and capital and therefore needs to produce in a manner equivalent to the resources expended. Each DP coming into the league is a gamble but some clubs have rolled the dice much better than others with much more at stake in terms of monetary investment. Low(er) risk, high reward isn't a bad idea but it's not something the Fire have had success with when it comes to DP's recently.
Anangonó isn't coming cheaply as the Fire is paying a significant transfer fee for his services but his cost obviously isn't in the realm of marquee players like Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry. His salary is apparently below the $368,750.00 mark which would make him a DP on pay rate alone. Instead the transfer fee pushes him into that level. Expectations were raised in March of 2012 when owner Andrew Hauptman assured fans that there wouldn't be any hesitation to spend the money for a "striker at the price of Robbie Keane" if the technical staff was able to present him with a player that was capable of making a significant impact. “What I say to them always is: ‘Bring me one. Bring me an impact player that has the qualities that are going to help you succeed,’” Hauptman said at the time. “That’s all I can do. Then it’s up to them to come up to me and say, ‘OK, we have one.’ I’ll say, ‘Go for it.’ There’s nothing more or less complicated about it than that.”
Despite a run at Humberto Suazo, it appears the technical staff hasn't been able to do that. Instead smaller gambles like MacDonald, Alvaro Fernandez, and now Anangonó have been made. Who knows, the latter may turn out to be that missing piece since he's virtually unknown to anyone outside of South American football and those who scouted him for the club here. If he is that guy, Guillermo Petrei and Javier Leon should be lauded for finding that diamond in the rough at a relatively young age without spending outlandish dollars on a high profile international striker. If he's not the guy, and he follows the same path of minor success leading to eventual disfavor over a short period of time then questions should rightfully be raised about consistently lackluster DP signings. Those questions lie beneath the surface in every sport, it's the nature of the business and more so in MLS where the margin of error is very slim given tight budget restrictions.
Even if he does turn out to be a player who will make a substantial contribution on the field immediately (and with DP's we shouldn't be guessing), he's still not a guy who will move the needle off the pitch. With attendance stagnant and mainstream attention almost non-existent in Chicago the Fire need to make a bold move at some point in order to re-establish a footprint in the market. This is the single biggest reason why national writers like Grant Wahl rank the Fire lower and lower each offseason when it comes to ambitious intent. With all due respect to Mike Magee and what he's accomplished in the last month, he's not a guy whose picture the club can hang on the marquee and grab the attention of a sports crazy city like Chicago. Neither is Juan Anangonó.
MLS clubs can win without a huge marquee name however. It's been done in the past and it's not a vital necessity for putting together a consistent winner. Real Salt Lake has proven it can be done without a huge payroll although both Alvaro Sabario and Javier Morales are now considered DP's. Neither one of them are "Keane money" players but both continue to produce at a high level in MLS. If the Fire can find players of that caliber who are consistent top performers then the high priced DP isn't as important. Winning, after all is what really matters and what will draw attention in Chicago even without a huge star. That marquee name will be what keeps the casual observer engaged and mass media involved though. Suazo, for example would have made a massive impact on and off the field.
We shouldn't be having the same conversation about finding an attacker capable of making a significant impact at this time come July of 2014. Time will tell if we are or not. Anangonó might be the right guy to complement what Magee and Rolfe do up front and improve the club's standing on the pitch. Off the field may be another discussion.
Let's wait and see.
There's not much to be had in terms of background and information on the Fire's newest addition but this six minute highlight reel (there are others out there) shows a portion of his best moments at El Nacional. Here are my amateur observations, which I'll preface by saying that I haven't watched him live or for a full match:
- Gets himself into position with smart runs
- Good size for a target man at 6'-1"
- Good pace for a bigger player
- Clever in the box, can put away chances with a clear look
- Appears to be good in the air
- Has been capped by Ecuador (1) in a qualifier against Argentina this past June
- Most of his goals in the clips are helped by simply atrocious defending rather than by individual effort
- There doesn't seem to be much to indicate how he plays in combination or how good a passer he is
- Very right footed
- A majority of the "highlights" show tap in goals - poachers are fine but he's gotta be more than that
- Can he adjust to life outside of Ecuador? Anongonó is still young and his only successful professional experience includes stints with Ecuadorian sides Barcelona and El Nacional. He struggled in one season in Argentina and just two weeks ago told media that he was unhappy at Juniors and wanted to return home to Barcelona. Those talks fell through. Failure to adjust to a new league and country all together can often times be the downfall of young footballers. The Fire have conducted extensive background investigation and apparently have done some homework but this should be a concern.
- Barcelona finished no higher than 3rd in his time there and as low as 9th.
- El Nacional finished fourth in his biggest season of 2011
- Argentinos Juniors just missed being relegated last season. In short, he hasn't played for a winner.
- A supposed deal with Chievo in Italy's Serie A in 2012 also never materialized