During an interview this past weekend on ESPN1000's Fire Weekly, General Manager Nelson Rodriguez teased the addition of two players to the roster within the coming weeks. He didn't provide names or teams but did describe the players and what they can contribute to the Fire.
"We have a signed contract with a young midfield player," said Rodriguez. "We won't make that announcement for another week to ten days and that's at the request of the team from whom the player is coming. They're involved in some important matches. He's a central midfielder who we believe will complement our existing group and give us a little bit more size in there. A great intensity and desire to win. Good in the aerial game and we think that player will help us. We expect that player to join the team in early May, perhaps sooner depending upon the results of his team. That player will come on loan with an option to purchase the contract."
Sources have confirmed that player to be Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam.
"We've also, although not contracted, we've reached agreement on all terms for a forward who can dabble a little bit wide and dabble a little bit as an attacking midfielder," Rodriguez continued. "Really a goal scorer, someone else who can help us with offensive efficiency. A player who is more experienced and has a proven goal scoring record. We anticipate that this contract will be signed this month and that he will join us before the end of May. We believe that we will complete that in time, inside of the first transfer window for MLS."
Separate sources have named that player as FC Groningen attacker Michael de Leeuw.
The Fire have been in pursuit of de Leeuw for some time. Discussions began during the January Euro window but FC Groningen was hesitant to part with their leading scorer. At one point, Groningen's General Manager Hans Nijland said that discussing the deal was akin to beating a dead horse because the club was unhappy with Chicago's offer for the player. Talks quieted momentarily but picked up again a few weeks after those comments were made. During that time, Groningen's Manager Erwin van de Looi continued to try different combinations which included de Leeuw being relegated to the bench. It didn't take long for de Leeuw to work his way back into the first eleven and Groningen offered him a two-year contract extension well before the April 1 Eredivisie deadline for offers to out of contract players.
The veteran forward has indicated interest in the offer without committing to acceptance. In the meantime, the Fire have continued to work with his agent and Groningen to complete a move here before the May 11 MLS window closes. Complicating matters further was the fact that the Philadelphia Union held Discovery Rights for de Leeuw and would seemingly be in line for compensation if a deal to bring the player stateside was reached.
Per MLS rules, "if a club wants to sign a player on the Discovery List of another team, it may offer that team $50,000 in General Allocation Money in exchange for the right to sign the player. The team with the player on its Discovery List will then either (i) have to accept the General Allocation Money and give up the right to sign the player or (ii) make the player a genuine, objectively reasonable offer."
If it's one thing the Fire have in surplus it's stock of MLS funny money. Completing a move with the Union, who haven't shown interest in pursuing de Leeuw, doesn't appear to be problematic.
It appears that the Fire's current offer to de Leeuw was attractive enough to rival Groningen's and entice the forward to move stateside, although it's important to note that nothing has been signed yet. While still playing coy, de Leeuw told Fox Sports this weekend that he still has not made a decision on any contract offer while confirming discussions have and are taking place with the Fire. "I do not know what to do with the offer that Groningen made me," he said. "I have taken it into consideration and have made no choice. I do not know what I want. I'm now 29 and it remains to be seen what my next step will be. Maybe I'll stay with Groningen, maybe I'll go on an adventure," he added. "There have been calls (with the Fire), during the winter (window) and now we are in conversations, but I have not signed anything." said de Leeuw while also acknowledging he has been in contact with former teammate Johan Kappelhof about Chicago.
The word play from both Rodriguez and de Leeuw matches in that nothing has been signed yet but the assertion that things have been agreed to on "all terms" would indicate that a verbal commitment has been made on personal terms, club terms, and Discovery terms.
In Groningen's game this past Sunday, de Leeuw was back in the line up but was red carded in the 30th minute after the match referee saw a retaliatory head butt attempt against Den Haag defender Tom Beugelsdijk. He'll face a one match mandatory suspension and the Dutch version of the Disciplinary Committee has added one more game, which Groningen is protesting.
Groningen currently sits in 12th place in the Eredivisie with only five matches remaining. The season finale is set for May 8, only three days before the MLS transfer window shuts. How long de Leeuw remains there appears to be the question.
The situation with Khaly Thiam is more clear cut although much less is known about him while playing in Hungary's first division, OTP Bank Liga. His current team, MTK Budapest is in second place and in a battle to stay in the top three and remain in the hunt for Europa League qualifying. They've got seven matches remaining in a season that ends on April 29. If they can clear some distance with a game in hand on third place Debrecen and fourth place Ujpest, it's possible that Thiam could join the Fire before May.
Rodriguez indicated that the official announcement would be forthcoming in the next 7-10 days and the deal includes a loan with an option to buy. Thiam is a well regarded, 22 year old, 6'-1", box to box center midfielder that would seem to fit in to the plan for a younger squad that includes a roster that could potentially be together for at least three seasons. The Fire will get a chance to find out if Thiam can be one of those core pieces.
Rodriguez also indicated that any other potential additions would more than likely come from within MLS, presumably via trade.
"Beyond (the two players), we've looked around the league to see if there are any options internally. We still feel we could use some help in other spots, but again we feel pretty good about the composition of the team and the competition within the team," he said.
Anyone holding out for a big name during the summer window will have to wait, as Rodriguez repeated what he said this past winter about potential DP signings. He expanded on the reasoning a bit more this time around. When asked about the possibility of more moves in July, his response was clear but with a caveat.
"At the moment, I would say no. I would say we would not look to be active in the international market in the second transfer window in the summer. Part of that will be, while we will still have some funds remaining and at our disposal, and those are MLS centered funds, our scouting and recruitment is not evolved enough. First, I have a concern about how good of a job we could do identifying and making sure that we'd be getting the right person. Secondly, history has shown that players who come midseason off of a full and complete long season tend to struggle in their first year in MLS. That's why we've pushed for these two signings in this first window so that the players can join us in May. We can acclimate them, give them rest, still get them ready and have enough season left for them to make a difference. I think the summer window shortens all of that. I would not expect us to be active. That said, we do have funds available so if we think there's a unique and special opportunity that we can capitalize on, we will attempt to do so. We will more than likely focus our attention on domestic solutions if they're needed at that point and concentrate our resources for scouting and recruitment for January. I'd like the club to get to the point where we're six months ahead and working on a six month nexus. I think in order to do that, given where we found ourselves with scouting and recruitment when we came in, skipping this window might help us more."
It should also be noted that the Fire currently sit atop the MLS Allocation ranking. They could use it to claim a select National Team or former MLS player or trade it for even more MLS funny money.