Frank Yallop addressed the trade of Jalil Anibaba this afternoon via conference call with reporters and also discussed a variety of topics including depth on the back line, additional moves heading into the season, the club’s cap/budget situation, the draft, and his philosophy on landing a designated player.
Let’s get right to the highlights:
“I recognized that we were light on the defensive side of things,” said Yallop. “Any chance I had to talk with clubs it was about defenders and people with experience especially in MLS. It’s always nice to think about getting players from the outside but I think that getting guys who have been very successful in our league always feels better for me”.
In acquiring two veteran central defenders the Fire have strengthened themselves in the middle of the backline by adding depth and competition for playing time at the position. “There were two solid defenders in the deal with Seattle. Hurtado has been one of those guys with experience that I know in the way he plays the game is really going to help us. Patrick, I’ve known for a very long time through Houston and now he’s done very well for Seattle. He plays a little bit differently from Jhon. I’m going to need both,” he explained of the move that brought the duo to Chicago.
Now that the Fire have four central defenders who can play and contribute in the league it’s not a given that all four will be staying with the team. Yallop wasn’t saying if and when any of them might be on the move but he did infer that something else could be in the offing. “I’m not going to say who or where but there might be some movement with one of the (players that we have now). I’m not going to say what’s going on but I just know we picked up two very good assets and it may help us to get more moving into a new season”.
Anibaba had some ups and downs at right back and it appears Seattle coach Sigi Schmid sees him as a center back but the Fire saw an opportunity to pick up two quality players in exchange for one. “Jalil did a fine job at right full back but it’s not his natural position,” said Yallop. Newly acquired Lovel Palmer is the heir apparent to the starting right back spot and Yallop feels he can step in seamlessly. “I’ve known about Palmer and he’s played midfield but his best attribute and the way he’s played is at right full back. It felt really comfortable getting him on board”.
That being said, the new Director of Soccer is aware that depth could be an issue on the outside for the club. “The depth at that spot is a bit of an issue for me. We do have Steven Kinney coming back free of injury now, so hopefully he can make that back up spot”. Yallop hopes Kinney can stay healthy and fight for the spot during preseason. If Kinney suffers another injury setback, Yallop acknowledged a need to move to another plan.
All four of the centerbacks could very well be on the roster to start the season if a deal to move at least one doesn’t materialize. “I can handle all four of them. I may use part of the trade or even guys that we have currently on the roster to get what I need. Any aspect of adding good players that others teams want or would need can be used as trade bait or assets and adds strength to what we’re trying to do,” he said about the possibility of keeping or moving players.
He’s more than ready to give the current group a chance over the next two months before making additional big moves. Yallop is looking forward to the opportunity to work through a camp with his new squad. “It was very difficult once I got the job. When you don’t work with players you don’t really get to know the team and exactly what they’re all about,” he explained. “What I didn’t want to do was completely rip the team apart without really having the chance to work with these guys. I want to give these guys every chance to shine”.
“I needed to make sure that a big spot we were lacking in last year – I think we’ve addressed (defense) and now we can kind of move forward. I’m not opposed to changing things but I want to really work with this cub and see what we have”.
Working with the cap
After taking the reins Yallop acknowledged in his town hall meeting last month that the Fire club he took over was a bit “stretched” when it came to the MLS cap/budget and it would take some work to get to a more manageable position. Several high priced veterans were moved and it seems there may still be some work to do.
“There wasn’t a massively high budget (over the cap) but it was pretty high. That was obviously a concern moving forward. It’s an ongoing challenge with our budget but I feel I’m getting it under control. Brian (Bliss) is working very hard looking into the future to make sure we don’t get cap tied. What we’re trying to do is make sure that in every move we make we have options for next season to reset it or renegotiate. We feel pretty comfortable with what we’ve done so far. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t just move a bunch of money out by moving some good players from our team to just to look at the cap and make it look better”.
The Fire still have several relatively high paid players on the roster and Yallop did single out one player in particular who he is expecting to have a rebound season. “Re-signing Chris Rolfe for me was a big deal because I think Chris has a lot to offer,” said Yallop. “Whether or not it works out, I’m looking forward to working with people like him. Even the guys with higher salaries, I want to give them a chance to prove that they want to be in Chicago and they want to work in the system.”
“The cap is getting under control and it was an issue to start with. It was a tight one. I’m not offering excuses because a lot of teams work with this. I just felt that getting it under control feels a lot better. Adding these two guys (Hurtado and Ianni) is not a big concern for me. We’ll make sure that come compliance day we’ll be fine and ready to go”.
“The draft this year is pretty strong but it’s pretty even,” said Yallop. “1-25 is pretty much across the board. Each team is going to pick for their needs. There’s no outstanding candidate that’s (definitely) going to go number one. I felt after consultation with Brian and CJ (Brown) that we felt very comfortable letting that pick go (#8 to Seattle). We still think we’re going to get somebody who’s going to help us (at #13)”.
“Looking at this draft, signing Harry Shipp was a great move. Looking at the crop this year I think he was definitely in the top five or three. That’s a good pick up for us. I’m very, very pleased with the Academy and what Larry Sunderland and those guys are doing. To pick up a guy like him through the system is fantastic”.
The Fire felt that the two veteran centerbacks acquired were going to be a bigger plus than any of the available centerbacks coming out of college although the crop this year is strong. “I will say that centerback is the biggest position covered in this draft. There are some good centerbacks”.
That being said he didn’t completely rule out taking one of the half backs available in the draft. “I probably think we won’t take a centerback but I like a lot of them in this draft so don’t be surprised if we do. It does open us up a little to get an attacker or a midfield player but I’ve got a list of guys…that I’m excited about”.
It’s a hot topic given the recent moves being made within the league to add big name, expensive talent but Yallop said he isn’t feeling any heat to get a deal done now. When asked if he felt pressure to find a DP considering what teams like TFC have done recently he responded:
“I don’t think so. I think they’re in different places as clubs and they’ll do want they want to do. I’ve had really long conversations with Andrew (Hauptman) and the rest of the staff and what I don’t want to do is panic into it and make the wrong decision on a DP. It’s well documented that we’ve spent quite a bit of money on that position (DP’s) and maybe things have not worked out like we may have wanted it to work out. I want to be crystal clear on the decision we make if we do bring in a DP, which is an option for us but I want to make sure of what I’m working with and what I’ve got and whether or not that person will fit in with us. I don’t want to be rushed into it, that’s important. I’m brand new to Chicago. I’ve been here eight or nine weeks and the other guys have been working at their clubs and had a chance to look at what they have and realized the holes that they have and their strong suits. Different clubs have been working on it for while”.
“I want to make sure that we’re not rushed into it and we’re doing the right thing for our club and not worry about the rest of the league and remain focused on that”.
So does that mean nothing is happening in the immediate future?
“Anything can happen. If something really comes up that makes sense, I might actively go after it and say we’ve got to sign a DP and we’ve got to spend three million dollars. We’re not doing that but what we are doing is talking to agents and clubs to get a feeling about anything that really makes sense for us. At this point we don’t have anything concrete in the pipeline”.
Euro trip results
Yallop spent a few weeks visiting the UK and Spain on scouting missions and there is a chance that something could have come out of the trip.
“We’ve got a player coming over from one of the clubs and we’ll see if he fits into what we’re trying to do here. There could be a signing. I’ve got other options and different loan stuff but once I really grasp the cap and look at it – it’s still pretty tight and there’s not a lot of wriggle room – we can move guys. There are some new players for us. This team won 14 games last year and it’s not far off”.
“I want to get my teeth into the coaching side of it and see if I can’t squeeze some more points and wins out of it. I think that’s one of my strengths but we’re always actively looking. We’re trying to set up a really good scouting system, which we’re doing at the moment. We’re just trying to get all of our pieces in place. We don’t miss anything. We’re always talking to clubs, agents, other organizations. I’m not just saying that to you guys and giving you some lip service about it but it’s the truth. I’m trying to make sure that we are set up for years in the right manner. That’s important. That’s what Andrew wanted and that’s what I felt that I wanted. Let’s do it right and try not to make mistakes”.