With the season at an end, players will sit through exit interviews in the coming days and some surely realize it’s the end of the line in Chicago after a disastrous year. Nelson Rodriguez and Brian Bliss will have a variety of factors to consider when looking at who stays and who departs heading into the winter. As with all teams, performance, budget, and contract options weigh heavily on those decisions.
Unlike last season when Frank Yallop departed for a scouting trip almost immediately after player interviews were conducted, the Fire find themselves with plenty of decisions to make on top of the questions on the pitch. Whether or not Bliss stays on as Technical Director or Coach will obviously play a big part in any new acquisitions. If Bliss isn’t the choice behind the bench, it would be behoove Rodriguez to get someone in place as soon as possible to begin working on personnel review. He says that ideally he'd like to have someone in place by Thanksgiving, which would seem to rule out Miguel Herrera. The former Mexico and Club America coach is looking to make a decision on his next team some time in mid-late December after weighing offers from Liga MX.
As clubs begin to release names of players whose options have been declined over the next month leading up to the Re-Entry Draft in December, the Fire can take stock of who may be able to help considering they will be at the top of the pecking order with no expansion teams automatically given first crack. Chicago can undoubtedly use help defensively and decisions made on contract options and expired deals will certainly play a part considering the budget space that can be made available by releasing some key veterans.
Here is a look at each player on the roster’s status at the conclusion of 2015.
Sean Johnson – Signed a multi-year extension in January of 2014 as his original MLS deal was set to expire. The Fire still have the 26 year old ‘keeper under contract, so a transfer fee would still be required from any interested foreign suitors.
Jon Busch – Signed on as the back-up to fill in for Sean Johnson while he was presumably away on National Team duty. The Fire have an option on Busch’s deal for 2016. He's indicated that he wants to continue playing and retire with Chicago.
Alec Kann – The third year ‘keeper has spent some time on loan over the last two seasons and could stick around in the same capacity next season.
Kingley Bryce – The Fire’s second round 2015 Superdraft pick spent some time on the back line in camp but played predominantly in midfield while on loan at Saint Louis FC. Most players in his position are on non-guaranteed or semi-guaranteed deals.
Greg Cochrane – In the third year of his original MLS deal, which is almost certainly not fully guaranteed.
Daneil Cyrus – Signed to a short term loan with an option for 2016 during the July transfer window.
Patrick Doody – The Homegrown defender spent time during his rookie season on loan with Saint Louis FC and impressed at left back while showing signs that he can contribute when given the chance with the first team.
Adailton – Signed this past winter when other centerback options fell through. Showed that he can be serviceable at best but he may be too slow to be consistently effective in MLS. The Fire can’t bring him back at the $244,500.00 guaranteed compensation he made this season but they do have an option for 2016. He wants to stay and Bliss has indicated that bringing him back at a new number is possible.
Eric Gehrig – Signed a new deal this past winter. Can be a valuable member as a squad player capable of playing multiple positions. One of the local players on the team that understands the history of the club.
Ty Harden – Acquired from San Jose in exchange for Quincy Amarikwa. Out of contract and oft injured seems to add up to a short stint in Chicago.
Joevin Jones – His second half was nowhere as bright as his start to the season but he’s inexpensive, under contract, young, and talented. May be a better midfielder than defender however.
Jeff Larentowicz – The Fire’s captain over the last several seasons is still working from a contract he signed with Colorado in 2012. The Fire have an option on 2016. Larentowicz is now 32 years old and at $271,000.00 guaranteed in 2015, they will need to make a difficult decision on his status for next year. Eligible for free agency under new CBA agreement if he isn't renewed.
Lovel Palmer – If the previous technical staff was still intact, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to assume that Palmer would not return in 2016. The Fire signed him to a new deal following the 2014 season and until they find another right back, he’s probably still the best option there. Could return next season but Rodriguez must decide if his $125,500.00 guaranteed number this year is worth the same in '16.
David Accam – The Fire paid over $3 million in a transfer fee for Accam so it’s likely that he returns unless someone overseas is willing to pony up enough to recoup that. He’s under contract through 2017 and holds a green card, thereby freeing up an international roster spot.
Razvan Cocis - Signed during the summer window in 2014, Cocis has shown some value but the Fire need an upgrade in central midfield. He’s 32 and pulled down $222,267.66 as a role player. After picking up his option last winter, it’s likely the Fire have another this year.
Collin Fernandez – Another homegrown player with some promise. In the first year of his HGP deal.
Patrick Nyarko – Signed to a new contract last November, as he and the club were working towards a new deal before the injury that ended his 2014 season and shortened his 2015 campaign. He’ll be 30 when next season starts and he takes a beating but he’s shown that he’s still capable of contributing at a high level. Also a valuable presence in the locker room although he's on a relatively big number at $215,750.00.
Matt Polster – Probably would have been in line for serious ROTY consideration if not for Cyle Larin’s tremendous goal output. A sure bet to return in 2016 if there is one.
Chris Ritter – Finished the second year of his deal as a Homegrown Player. Considerably less time in 2015 due to the emergence of Polster. If the Fire ever operate their own USL side, this would be a good way to get him minutes.
Harry Shipp – Flashes of brilliance over the first two seasons of his professional career have been tempered a bit by disappointing second halves after big starts. If the Fire play him centrally rather than outside, where he has been for the majority of his time so far, he may flourish but he may also not be the superstar some believe he can be. Definitely a valuable asset either way. Potential to develop into a leader if he can find consistency.
Michael Stephens – Signed from Stabaek last December. Could be another valuable and versatile squad player for 2016.
Matt Watson – Veteran midfielder is out of contract. Seemed to be a favorite of Yallop’s staff. Can help MLS squads as a role player.
Kennedy Igboananike – The Fire paid a much smaller transfer fee for Igboananike than they did with Accam, as he was entering the last year of his contract with AIK last winter, which is why he was bought down with TAM in order to free up a DP spot. The emergence of Gilberto would seem to indicate that the team will be looking to move him this winter since the use of more allocation money will be required to keep him from taking a DP spot next season but he has a guaranteed deal for 2016.
Jason Johnson – Acquired from Houston in exchange for Alex, partially to clear some cap space for 2016. Will be going into the fourth year of his MLS Generation Adidas rookie deal.
Mike Magee – The extension that renegotiated Magee’s deal to near DP numbers (budget-wise) expires following this season. Injuries have limited him and his unhappiness with the handling of his problems by the medical staff make it even more unlikely that he returns in 2016. If he does return it will need to be at a greatly reduced number. There is every indication that he won’t accept a lower offer from the club. The fact that he has already acknowledged that the deal will expire speaks volumes. Word is he does not want his option picked up even at the current number. Magee is headed for MLS free agency as a player over 28 years old with at least 8 years experience in the league.
Gilberto – The newest Designated Player has shown promise when he’s been fit. His initial MLS contract expires at the end of the 2016 season. He would seem to be a player that can be part of a good core.
Following the debacle that was 2014, Yallop was able to turn over a good portion of the roster with the cap/budget space that was cleared up by cutting ties with the contracts of Juan Luis Anangono, Patrick Ianni, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Gonzalo Segares, and Bakary Soumare. Room was made to bring in three designated players and there will be some room again this year thanks to expiring contracts and allocation money from trades (Drogba/Maloney) and the dubious distinction of finishing dead last. A decision needs to be made on Igboananike and how to navigate around his guaranteed deal if the Fire are to improve defensively and still go after someone like Carlos Vela, who ESPNFC indicates is interested in playing in Chicago.
Roughly half of the players on this year's roster have options for 2016. The Fire can't afford the lost seasons to keep piling up.