As the start of training camp approaches clubs are gearing up for the new season. Some are making big waves (TFC, DC) while most others appear to be still searching before the MLS transfer window "officially" opens in February. The Superdraft helps flesh out some rosters and fill a few holes but aside from Toronto FC, those big splash signings haven't really been made league-wide yet. There are always rumors linking one player or another to MLS and the Fire have been conspicuously quiet when it comes to big additions this winter.
Frank Yallop addressed some of the reasons for that lack of movement on the "big name" front citing a need to avoid rushing into a signing, budget concerns, and a desire to get a look at the current squad close up in training camp as the driving factors behind the perceived lack of significant additions. Yallop hasn't exactly been quiet despite not signing a DP caliber player this winter however. The additions that have been made have addressed the weakest area on the pitch at the conclusion of 2013. Defense and depth needed to be improved and the new technical staff has done that.
Klye Reynish was added as a back-up 'keeper and Lovel Palmer was acquired from RSL last month. Both should be solid contributors. They're just not names that are going to move the needle in terms of headlines. Reynish is a good addition as a capable goalkeeper in the event that Sean Johnson ends up in Brazil come June and Palmer is a quality role player that is expected to assume the starting right back spot from the departed Jalil Anibaba. Depth and competition was added at centerback with the acquisition of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni in the trade with Seattle but it's hard to imagine that all four centerbacks currently on the roster will be there come opening day. Yallop alluded to the possibility of another trade in the works when he addressed the depth chart now boasting Bakary Soumare, Austin Berry, Hurtado, and Ianni as players capable of seeing the pitch for considerable minutes this season.
First round draft choice Marco Franco is expected to compete with Palmer, and Stephen Kinney at right back. Most observers agree he was the best player available at that position when the Fire chose 13th last week. A back-up at left back is somewhat of a concern but Palmer can play on the left as well as on the right and Hunter Jumper can also play there.
All of these moves make the club better but an upgrade in the center of the park to pair with Jeff Larentowicz still seems to be an area that needs to be addressed.
Harrison Shipp may find some playing time as an attacking midfielder or an underneath striker but he's not quite the box to box central player that most clubs are looking for. The Fire could use a two-way central midfielder or an all out creator but those players are difficult to come by. Michael Bradley would have fit one of those descriptions but the Fire weren't one of the teams in the running for his services. Toronto FC easily outbid Columbus, Philadelphia, and Sporting Kansas City in order to get him so where does that leave the Fire in terms of an substantial upgrade to the roster?
Part of the lack of immediate news regarding a big addition may be the availability of open spots on the roster and making those open spots work within the budget. Last month we looked at where the Fire stood after releasing several high priced veterans and that led me back to the latest MLSPU salary update. At the end of the 2013 season the club had four players listed on the roster that were technically "off the books" budget-wise since they were out on various loan deals. One of those players was homegrown forward Kellen Gulley, who failed to impress in Atlanta and had his 2014 option declined by Chicago. Gulley has since been signed to a new deal but his spot isn't guaranteed and he'll need to earn his way onto the roster.
Three other players, Alvaro Fernandez, Federico Puppo, and Orr Barouch were loaned out internationally but only Fernandez' contract expired at the end of 2013. Fernandez is no longer tied to Chicago but the other two officially remain on the Fire's roster since their loan deals have expired. Puppo has one year remaining on a three year deal and the Fire would have to find another loan deal before camp breaks or he will be back with the team - that is unless the Fire decide to cut ties altogether and release him outright assuming the cost of the remaining year. Complicating matters, if Puppo does return he will occupy a second designated player spot along with Juan Luis Anangono. That wouldn't exactly be prudent use of two DP spots.
Barouch is another story. He left the Fire in September of 2012 on loan to Bnei Yahuda in Israel after a transfer deal was apparently botched and he made it known that he wasn't happy about it. While a permanent transfer was never officially completed it seems he may be amenable to returning to Chicago. Where Barouch fits in at this point and where he slots into the roster is unknown. Here is an updated estimate of what the "on-budget" roster looks like at this point.
|2||Juan Luis Anangono*||$ 120,000.00|
|3||Jhon Kennedy Hurtado *^^*||$ 190,000.00|
|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||Patrick Ianni||$ 150,000.00|
|18||Federico Puppo *'*||$ 125,000.00|
|19||Kyle Reynish *''*||$ 75,000.00|
|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 and could leave precious little budget room for Yallop to make a significant addition.
**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. His guaranteed compensation in 2013 was $350,000.00.
*****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 but he will be back.
*'*Puppo is a Designated Player due to the transfer fee paid for his services initially. Bringing him back would eat up an on-budget salary spot for a DP who is likely to fall behind Magee, Anangono, Rolfe, Amarikwa, and Shipp as a forward. He would also occupy an international spot but that is not a concern for the Fire since they have only have two internationals currently signed. If Puppo is carried on-budget as a DP, then there are real issues at hand.
*''*Reynish's salary is an estimate based on his 2012 salary with RSL
*^^*Hurtado signed a new deal with Seattle in December of 2012 which gave him a $30K raise over his previous guaranteed salary. The Sounders used the retention funds mechanism to soften the hit against their cap but how much of that has transferred over to Chicago's books is a mystery. We're assuming the full amount for this exercise.
As you can see there isn't much space left available on the senior roster going into camp. Simple math totals the first nineteen players out at $2,838,745.00 or for this exercise a total of $258,755.00 under the 2014 salary budget with one slot remaining. It would appear that the Fire still have room to add one significant signing at mid season but we're not aware of any possible player increases for this season or how much allocation funds are available at the moment. We also don't know if the transfer fees for Anangono and Puppo count toward the DP budget. There is enough ambiguity in the rules and the numbers to assume that the Fire potentially do have room to add one significant reinforcement at some point this season.
Of course, this is all an estimate and shouldn't be taken as gospel since MLS doesn't publish or wish to clarify how clubs arrive at their budget totals each season. However, it does provide a snap shot and guesstimate of just how much wriggle room Yallop might have. Last week he said they were tight and he wasn't lying.
It should also be noted that Puppo's number will come off as soon as his situation is resolved adding another $125,000.00 in available budget space. If the Fire decided to keep all four homegrown players at least two of them or a portion of their contracts will also hit the "on-budget" column since MLS has an internal cap on the total dollars that can be allocated "off-budget" for Homegrown players. More on that below...
|21||Victor Pineda||$ 53,242.00|
|22||Alec Kann||$ 36,881.00|
|23||Hunter Jumper||$ 36,881.00|
|24||Brendan King||$ 36,881.00|
|25||Kellen Gulley^||$ 50,000.00|
|28||Orr Barouch^^||$ 46,500.00|
|29||Yazid Atouba^||$ 50,000.00|
|30||Marco Franco||#1 draft pick|
Open tryout winner Freddie Braun is not listed above
Fourth round draft choices Zach Bolden, Kadeem Dacres, and Byran Ciesulka are not listed above
^Re-signed to a new deal and listed at an estimated 2014 salary
^^loan expires, rights still belong to Chicago
The additions of Harry Shipp and Chris Ritter as Homegrown players and Marco Franco via the draft leaves only one open roster spot at the moment assuming Barouch is back at his 2012 listed salary. How much MLS clubs have to spend on Homegrown players before they hit the budget is unknown. With Pineda and Gulley (at a reduced rate) already on the roster it's possible that signing Shipp or Ritter could push them over the allotted "off-budget" Homegrown funds available therefore making some or all of the new Homegrown's salaries count against the budget. MLS clubs don't have an infinite number of "budget free" dollars to spend on HG talent but they have made an effort to encourage signings by providing cap relief.
It should also be noted that minimum salary players are also expected to receive a 5% increase in 2014 per the CBA negotiated in 2010.
As you can see, Yallop wasn't blowing smoke when he said there wasn't a whole lot of room to maneuver but there also appear to be avenues for continuing to lessen the hit thereby opening up either more budget space or room for reinforcements. Diego Forlan isn't coming but I get the sense that Yallop and Bliss aren't done maneuvering just yet.