It's the time of year in Major League Soccer when the offseason schedule starts humming and teams send out press releases that indicate which players they've kept and which they haven't.
Or at least, that's kind of what they're getting at.
Just take a look at the Chicago Fire's list of offseason moves released on Nov. 30. Applaud the transparency, but you need to have some experience in the weird MLS nuances to make sense of it all.
First of all, players whose options aren't picked up aren't totally free agents yet. The Fire have a chance to negotiate with them before the Dec. 7 deadline. In most cases this is because the team may want to keep a player, but not pay him his previous salary. Defender/captain Jeff Larentowicz and backup goalkeeper Jon Busch, both who had their options declined by the Fire, are both possibilities for this strategy. Larentowicz came in at $271,000 in 2015 according to the most recent MLS Players Union salary release.
Among the players who didn't get renewed, Busch and Larentowicz are both eligible for the league's new free agency rules, which requires players to be at least 28 years old with eight years of experience in the league. So are out of contract players Mike Magee and Ty Harden.
The great thing about the press release, which each team seems to be cranking out around this time, is that every player on the roster is mentioned. Players are in one of the following categories: option exercised, option declined, loan deal expired (say hi, Daneil Cyrus), players already under contract for 2016 and players out of contract.
The problem is there is no definitive news on about half the players. The players already under contract and the players whose options were exercised are the only official transactions. Those players will start the 2016 season on the Fire's roster unless they are involved in a trade. The players whose options were declined? Well, there's still a chance a new deal is worked. That's what makes the MLS offseason a bit confusing. Sometimes things aren't even official when they're official.
That said, this is a big first step for the Fire's offseason. It should be a busy one, even after the hiring of new coach Veljko Paunovic.
Options were always going to be picked up for Fire cornerstones Harry Shipp and Matt Polster. Patrick Doody has received some positive reports despite few first team appearances in 2015 as a rookie so his renewal was largely expected. Fellow 2015 rookie Kingsley Bryce spent the season on loan with St. Louis FC. Bryce's option being picked up might be a minor surprise, but perhaps this is a sign of the Fire wanting to give young players every chance to succeed with this new regime.