The Fire completed a move to add Uruguayan midfielder Egidio Arévalo Rios yesterday just ahead of the transfer window deadline expiration. After an odd week of rumors amid presumptuous overseas reports that a deal had been in place for some time an agreement was actually agreed to on Wednesday and signed yesterday afternoon. Talks between the Fire and Rios' Italian club Palermo had initially taken place several weeks ago but as of a week ago today the deal had fallen through. Chicago apparently couldn't come to an agreement with Palermo and decided to pursue other options. Those other options in the form of an attacking midfielder failed to materialize and the opportunity to add Rios was revisited. Palermo was looking to sell and wasn't interested in a loan deal which complicated matters.
"It's been a long walk. The conversations started before the Confederations Cup. I've been working with my representatives and they convinced me MLS was a good opportunity and Chicago opened the door for me," said Rios after training this morning. "I had other options but I was determined to come here and I was impressed with the organization. Once I commit with my word that I am coming to a team there's no turning back. I wanted to come here ahead of the other options." he continued.
The potential for completing the move was revived earlier this week as Rios made it clear that his preference for the upcoming season was to play in the United States and stayed in contact with the Fire. "After playing in the Confederations Cup I knew I wanted to come here and there were conversations that we needed to get through (in Italy). The Italian team finally decided to move forward after the situation broke down and came to agreement with this club. Fortunately the Fire's technical staff persisted and got through the resistance from Palermo and now I'm here," said Rios of the ongoing negotiations that sparked speculation on whether he would come to MLS or not.
While contemplating the move he was helped along by a face familiar to Chicago supporters. Rios spoke to Uruguayan National teammate Alvaro Fernandez about the club and the league. "He told me you can come there with confidence that there wouldn't be a problem fitting in with the group and the team. It's a big challenge for me but that's why I'm here, to commit to the group and the technical staff to make the team better," said Rios. "Alvaro had heard the media reports about the deal being done but I told him nothing had been finalized and we were still in conversation." He continued to press for a deal while his agent worked through the details. "My agent really was the biggest influence in suggesting the move and I wanted him to push to come here. He went back to Italy to try to work through the situation at Palermo and get something done," said Rios.
He agreed to terms for a contract on Thursday afternoon but can't be added to the roster until the Fire either add or open up another international roster spot. Paolo Tornaghi is close to attaining a green card and the club is still actively trying to find a new home for striker Sherjill MacDonald. Either move would open up an international spot for Rios, who is still very much in the picture for the Uruguayan National Team and will likely miss some time down the Fire's stretch run to participate in World Cup Qualifying contests. If a deal for MacDonald isn't reached and Tornaghi's green card isn't received as expected the next option would be acquisition of an international roster spot from another club via trade.
Fitness shouldn't be an issue once that roster spot is available. "I've been training in Mexico with a personal trainer and training with the National team. It's very important to stay fit and work with the ball all the time," said Rios of his fitness while asserting that he can play now. "I want to show that I'm very committed from the first day of training and show why I'm here. I want to show the directors that brought me here that it was a good move and hopefully I'll play many years here."
Uruguay's upcoming qualifiers take place on 9/6 against Peru, 9/10 against Colombia, 10/11 versus Ecuador, and 10/15 hosting Argentina. That would potentially rule him out of MLS matches on 9/1 vs Houston, 9/7 at Seattle, 9/11 @ Toronto, and 10/12 at FC Dallas. That would make him available for only 8 of the club's final thirteen games of the season including this coming weekend. When asked about the Uruguayan technical staff's opinion of his move to MLS, Rios replied, "The National team's technical staff was happy about the move because I'll have a team and they respect the league." He won't play in a friendly against Korea but he expects to rejoin them for qualifiers.
Where he'll play on the field in Chicago is another item for discussion. Rios feels he can help offensively and isn't limited to defensive duties as much as he is with Uruguay. "I can play two-way mid (box-to-box) or holding mid and I can join the attack. On other teams I've played defensively to cover in midfield but I can score goals too. On the National team it's a different role, there it's very specifically defensive," he said.
According to this report, which I believe to be accurate Rios is in Chicago on loan for six months while the Fire hold an option to buy for an additional two years. The club is taking another calculated risk with Rios in hopes of having a player capable of making an impact in an attempt to get back into playoff position but adding another defensive midfielder who will only be available for a limited time down the stretch seems a bit odd. However, he is a player who is capable of making an impact when in form and should be a significant upgrade over any of the other central midfield options currently on the roster even if he's not necessarily an "attacking" center mid. It would seem that the best possible combination when Rios becomes available is a pairing with Jeff Larentowicz who has excelled in the past with players like Pablo Mastroeni and Shalrie Joseph next to him in similar roles to what Rios may provide. That doesn't necessarily a mean a change in formation as Frank Klopas believes Rios can contribute as a box-to-box midfielder.
"He plays different ways. If you look at any team (in the middle) and you have experience, depth, and quality those positions are hard to find and fill. Guys on top, in the middle of the field even in the back. You saw when we had Arne what a difference he made. If you can strengthen the spine of any team and have guys that can be around for years, for me that's a good base to start from," said Klopas.
While he may not be exactly what the Fire needed in terms of an attacker, he is a high quality player who should be able to contribute significantly when he's on the pitch. If they can essentially replace MacDonald and his spot on the roster with Rios then the move makes sense even if it is a short term rental. Rios will be considered a designated player although his salary isn't anywhere near what it was at Palermo. On the negative side, they've tied up a considerable amount of cap/budget space on defensive central midfielders in Logan Pause, Larentowicz, and now Rios.
Klopas addressed Rios' desire to play in Chicago as a big positive in the move. "He's a world class player. It's good to have a guy that wants to be a part of this team and wants to be here," said Klopas. "He's a guy that had options in Italy and Mexico but this is where he wanted to be. We've been in touch with the guy for a year and a half and Leo, who's from Uruguay knows the guy and knows that this is the place he wanted to be. He passed up good offers to stay in Italy."
- According to Klopas the Fire are "close" to having something happen to free up an international spot.
- Klopas said Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee are "day to day" with minor injuries although neither are listed on the latest injury report. Fire Confidential's Jeff Krause covered training and noted that Rolfe trained with the team while Magee worked inside.
- Patrick Nyarko has been ruled out of this match with concussion symptoms and will be evaluated daily. The obvious concern here is Nyarko's past history of concussions and the club is likely to play it safe with him even though he is an integral part of the attack.
- The MLS Player's Union released an updated salary report today and Juan Luis Anangonó is listed at $120,000.00 guaranteed. Rios is not yet listed.
- Rios will probably wear #5