As 2013 came to a close with a flurry of activity expect 2014 to start with another busy few weeks of Fire related news. As Frank Yallop wrapped his first two months on the job decisions needed to be made on player options ahead of the Re-Entry Draft. Chris Rolfe was re-signed after initially having his option declined, Daniel Paladini was traded to Columbus, Lovel Palmer was acquired, and CJ Brown was added to the coaching staff as Yallop's first assistant. Departing players included Egidio Arevalo Rios, Corben Bone, Maicon Santos, Shaun Francis, Joel Lindpere, Wells Thompson, Paolo Tornaghi, and Mike Videira.
Yallop called the Fire's cap/budget situation "stretched" at December 14th's town hall meeting but moves to clear space by losing Rios, Santos, Thompson, and Lindpere theoretically frees up considerable dollars that can now be used to fortify the roster. How close are the Fire to the budget ceiling? While we'll never know the exact numbers we can take an educated guess at what Yallop will have to play with going forward.
Assuming Logan Pause is back (and he will be), the Fire currently have 21 players under contract out of 30 potential spots available on the first team roster. Only spots 1-20 count against the increased "budget" amount of $3,097,500.00 for the upcoming 2014 season. Since we're not privy to final contract amounts for 2014 let's assume 2013 "guaranteed compensation" is applicable for each player for the purposes of this estimate. Here's what spots 1-20 possibly look like going into 2014:
|2||Juan Luis Anangono*||$ 120,000.00|
|3||Jalil Anibaba||$ 131,245.00|
|4||Austin Berry||$ 78,245.00|
|5||Dilly Duka**||$ 273,000.00|
|6||Sean Johnson***||$ 153,000.00|
|7||Jeff Larentowicz||$ 231,000.00|
|8||Mike Magee||$ 191,667.00|
|9||Patrick Nyarko||$ 249,500.00|
|10||Gonzalo Segares||$ 168,333.00|
|11||Bakary Soumare****||$ 200,000.00|
|12||Quincy Amarikwa||$ 46,500.00|
|13||Stephen Kinney||$ 46,500.00|
|14||Lovel Palmer||$ 71,500.00|
|15||Chris Rolfe*****||$ 200,000.00|
|16||Logan Pause*****||$ 150,000.00|
|17||Yazid Atouba******||$ 51,500.00|
|18||Spot available||$ ????|
|19||Spot available||$ ????|
|20||Spot available||$ ????|
*Anangono is considered a designated player due to the transfer fee paid for him last season. It is unclear how much of that transfer fee will count against the budget since we don't know how much of it was paid down via allocation funds. We're assuming only his "salary" will count against the number in 2014 for this review. If Anangono takes up the entire DP allotment of $368,750.00 that presents another problem altogether budget-wise.
**Columbus picked up a portion of Duka's number in 2013. How much of that is still on the Crew's books for 2014 is unknown. We're assuming the entire amount is on Chicago's dime.
***Johnson's option for 2014 was picked up. It's possible the Fire could use the "retention funds" mechanism to extend him past this coming season.
****Philadelphia will assume $150,000.00 of Soumare's contract in 2014 against their budget.
*****Estimated renegotiated salaries for Rolfe and Pause are just that. The possible dollars listed here are guesses. Rolfe received a longer term deal in exchange for a lower salary and Pause has not yet officially been signed.
******Not officially signed but expected to return. Could also be moved to the "off-budget" list.
The "on budget" roster potentially has three spots open and Yallop apparently now has some room to work with after the recent purging of the more expensive veteran talent mentioned above. It would seem that there is ample room to add another designated player if trips to the UK and Spain are fruitful for Yallop and the Fire. The new Director of Soccer has identified central midfield and defense as positions that he'd like to improve but he may not be sold on Anangono as the answer at the target spot either. A two way central player that can create is high on the list (as it is for most teams) and Chicago certainly still needs to improve in the back even after adding some depth on the outside in Palmer.
The total dollars for players 1-17 equals $2,481,490.00 or $616,010.00 under the cap/budget for 2014. It should also be noted that allocation dollars may also still be available but we'll never know what that amount of funny money is. With only Alex, Anangono, and possibly Atouba occupying international roster spots there is also plenty of flexibility there.
Players 21-30 are "off budget" players that do not count against the cap. Homegrown players and younger players toiling under their rookie deals fall into this category. Here's the potential "off budget" list as it stands right now.
|21||Victor Pineda||$ 53,242.00|
|22||Alec Kann||$ 35,125.00|
|23||Hunter Jumper||$ 35,125.00|
|24||Brendan King||$ 35,125.00|
|25||Kellen Gulley||$ 79,000.00|
^potential Homegrown signings
Even if the Fire add Notre Dame's Harrison Shipp and Northwestern's Chris Ritter as Homegrown players as expected they will still have these final three roster spots open for competition. January's Super Draft should help fill in these spots. Most observers of the college game are very high on Shipp and some believe he may be able to contribute this year. His game has been compared to Magee's so it's possible he could fill a playmaking role but he may be more of a second striker than he is a two-way central midfielder. Ritter is another highly regarded college midfield prospect so it's possible the Fire could be adding three of the top ten college players of the past year to the roster despite only having one first round pick at #8 overall.
What happens next?
Once Yallop returns from scouting trips overseas it won't be long before players are back at Toyota Park for fitness evaluations ahead of a departure for Florida and the first leg of pre-season training. The remainder of the coaching staff should be announced early in the new year followed by the annual MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida from January 10-14. The SuperDraft will be conducted in Philadelphia on January 16. A veteran back-up 'keeper is also still on the shopping list.
Off the field there will also be some news that is sure to generate heated discussion with the unveiling of a new primary kit for 2014. The Fire will continue to wear the secondary blue kits for one more season as well as introducing the "third jersey" contest winner in October.
With a completely new technical staff in place things will get interesting very quickly. MLS will be back before you know it.