Fire notebook - roster adds, starting goalkeeper, and more

The annual Fire Kickoff Luncheon is the final signal that the season is upon us. New York City FC will visit Toyota Park on Sunday at 1pm and the Fire are still looking to add players. MLS roster/budget compliance regulations take effect today but General Manager Nelson Rodriguez says the team is currently in good shape when it comes to available space with which to supplement the roster.

“We have no issues with roster compliance at all. As you all know, we’ve tried to be very patient in assembling a group moving forward,” Rodriguez told media on Monday morning. “It’s still not complete. We’ll get there. We’re satisfied with the progress that we’re making with some of the players with whom we’re negotiating currently around the globe. We hope to bring those to conclusion as soon as we can, but always with eye toward building something that’s sustainable.”

Even if agreements are reached this week with any of the international prospects, it is not likely that they’ll be available for the opener due to the time necessary to complete the visa process. Rodriguez said that the club is still uncertain whether John Goossens will have his visa in time for the match this weekend. Goossens will add depth when he’s available but a central midfielder and attacker are still on the shopping list. “We still think we need some help in there. John Goossens has proved to be a really good find for us, and he’ll help. His versatility is really important to us. We think he can play any of the midfield spots. We also think he can play out on the wing for us, so that’s comforting. I don’t know that he’ll have his visa in time for this weekend. We’ll adjust if that’s not the case, but we would like to add another midfielder and we still need some support front. We need to find some more goals,” said Rodriguez.

Shaping the roster 

When asked if the progress for completing the roster had met his offseason expectations, Rodriguez noted that was still work to be done before a full assessment could be made. “I don’t know yet because we know that we’re still looking for some pieces. Even after you acquire them it takes some time to see how it comes together. It’s part science, but in large part it’s also art. At the core of it all, and what we always strive for is the people. One of the things brings us a good degree of comfort so far is that we think that the group we have assembled has really meshed well in terms of its chemistry. Now again, we haven’t been punched in the face yet. We haven’t lost four games in a row yet. We haven’t lost 4-0 yet. We haven’t had the media criticize us yet. The real test of that character will come when we face genuine adversity, but for the moment we’re very pleased at how the character of the group has come together,” he replied.

“I think that Pauno’s style and his demands are great. There’s no substitute for time and experience in that setting and five weeks is plenty long enough for preseason in my mind but it’s not the same as five months or five years. One thing that will benefit us I’m sure, is more time together. Keep in mind that every time you add or subtract a piece you stunt that timeline a little bit because you have an evolution and an adjustment that is always required. Broad based, I’d say we need more time together and we need more time when we incorporate parts. Looking at Sunday as a microcosm of where we are, I think we still need to do better in possession. I think we gave the ball away a little bit too easily. Our back line, which is still getting to know each other, will get better and I think we’ll start to limit chances against us. We’d better before Sunday because there’s a lot of firepower on New York City FC. Lastly, I still think there’s still room for us to generate even more opportunities on the offensive side.”

Preseason success

The Fire have had success in recent preseasons and that failed to translate into anything once the games started to count. Rodriguez takes some pride in the results so far but realizes that those wins are quickly forgotten.

“We’re very satisfied with the progress. Winning is nice,” he said. “It was especially nice Saturday night to end preseason with a championship and a good performance against the reigning MLS Cup Champions, but twenty-four hours later it meant nothing. This Sunday will be the real first test that the team faces. We still have to get better, but I’m satisfied with the progress that we’ve demonstrated that the team has the capability to continue to improve.”

“Our expectations remain the same. What we strive for is improvement on a daily basis. Excellence, on a daily basis. If we can get the process right, we’re comfortable that the results will come in the end. The team is not complete yet and it remains a work in progress. I think a lot of credit should go to the players for putting in a great deal of effort, and an intelligent effort in the preseason. It was nice to see them rewarded.”

Facing NYCFC

The Fire will need to get off to a good start with six of their first eight games this season played at Toyota Park. Rodriguez said the game isn’t a must-win but it could set the tone for the season. “It’s important. It’s not crucial because we’re going to lose a game over the course of the year. The way we look at it is fifty points is pretty much the barometer for playoffs, so we’ve broken the season down in bites. We’ll approach the season that way. To win at home would be an energizing moment. We also recognize that NYC is desperate for similar reasons. Perhaps they feel disappointed in their performance and their results last year. It’s two marquee teams in the league so it will be an interesting first game,” he said.

Buying into the system

The style of play, and the effort required to maintain that style seems to have taken among the players this preseason. Coach Veljko Paunovic complimented them for the progress to date.

“We are very happy so far, with how the preseason went and how the guys did,” said Paunovic. “They worked very hard during the preseason and they worked very well. Right now, I think they are not only trying to do what we are asking or demanding, they are doing that and they want to do it, and they believe. I think they’ve achieved that so far by the games that we’ve played in the preseason and how we’ve performed and how they feel that the system could work. Everything is on the players in the end. Obviously, we have to prepare them. We have to give them that support. We are there to serve them and at the same time guide them, and demand (from) them.”

Adaptability was a main theme this winter when asked about how he wanted the team to play. Paunovic believes that the tactical switches made during the final game in Portland shows that the players are catching on.

“This is something that we announced as soon as I arrived here. The team was prepared. At least they were prepared from the standpoint of we are going to do that. When the moment came, they were ready. They wanted to accept and play the way that we asked. Slowly, but firmly, this team is starting to understand the advantages of playing like that. Having different styles and adaptability.”

Back line

The Fire posted a clean sheet against the Timbers this past weekend but there presumed defensive starters haven’t had much time to play together. Paunovic believes that cohesive will come with more minutes as a unit.

“This is a process. It takes time. The guys are new. Some are coming from not playing for six months, like (Joao) Meira. Kappelhof is another guy who’s coming from playing the whole season. Adaptation, adjustment, that we have to have in order to get know each other, it takes time but I can tell you that these guys are doing one hundred percent the best they can do,” he said.

Starting GK in question?

Matt Lampson started the last two Simple Invitational tournament matches leading to speculation that Sean Johnson may not start in goal on Sunday afternoon. Paunovic didn’t do much to dispel that notion, offering some praise for the recently signed ‘keeper while making sure to note that all jobs are open for competition. “(Lampson) did very well,” said Paunovic. “They all have to work and earn it. This week and every week. Everyone has to earn his spot and we are working very good. We are very happy with that. We believe that is the approach that we have to have in order to have all our guys one hundred percent for every session and for every game.”

When asked if he was ready to name a starting goalkeeper for the NYCFC match, he remained coy. “We are working on that. We have seven days to prepare for the game,” he said.

Johnson told reporters that he had not discussed the starting spot with Paunovic yet, but was a bit surprised that he did not see more action after joining the team from USMNT camp. “Definitely expected to play more than I did. Playing 75 minutes in Portland, I would have liked to have played a little bit more but that’s the coach’s decision and not mine,” he said.

It’s possible that the Fire’s current most tenured player could get the nod on Sunday but it appears Lampson will get serious consideration. There may not be international suitors on the table at the moment but Johnson reiterated his desire to play overseas when asked whether he’s still keeping an eye on taking that step.

“For me, my ambitions are to play and to play as long as I can, and play at the highest level I can. This league has come a long way. I think if the opportunity still presented itself to play overseas, I’d have to weigh the options. The situation being the right place and the right time, I’m definitely not opposed to still going overseas,” he said.

Johnson’s last start came in a 3-2 win over Vancouver on February 21.

Accam’s status

David Accam missed time due to illness last weekend and the coaching staff decided to protect him from potential turf-related injury in Portland, where he experienced some issues last season. Paunovic alluded to other ailments that require evaluation during training this week before committing him to availability for the opener.

“We have to see how feels (Tuesday). We’re still not ready to say if he’s going to be ready for the game,” he said.

“He had some small muscular problems but we believe he is going to be fine soon, but we are not going to push him because he is very important for our team. We don’t want him to feel under stress now when we are starting. When he’s ready, he will be great for us.”


  • The current roster includes 22 signed players.
  • Arturo Alvarez is expected to be officially added to that list soon.
  • Kingsley Bryce and Vincent Keller have been waived. Alex Morrell remains in camp.
  • Per Paunovic, no decisions have been made on possible USL loans.
  • The coach’s expectations right now – “We want to reach the playoffs this year, and that is what we’re going to fight for. It’s going to take a lot of time, process, and energy, as we’ve said but we have to have faith that we can do it.”
  • The Fire currently have 6 international spots taken (Kappelhof, Meira, Ramos, Goossens, Gilberto, Igboananike)

Current “signed” roster

GOALKEEPERS: Sean Johnson, Matt Lampson, Patrick McLain
DEFENDERS: Jonathan Campbell, Joey Calistri, Patrick Doody, Eric Gehrig, Michael Harrington, Johan Kappelhof, João Meira, Rodrigo Ramos, Brandon Vincent
MIDFIELDERS: David Accam, Razvan Cocis, Drew Conner, Collin Fernandez, John Goossens, Nick LaBrocca, Matt Polster, Michael Stephens
FORWARDS: Gilberto, Kennedy Igboananike


Filed under: 2016 Pre Season

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • Was Paunovic being coy about the GK position, or is he just doing what any good coach would do, and that is to keep the players on their toes? He has no reason to name a starting GK six days before the match, or any other player for that matter. Better to keep a player wondering about his status, rather than let him be complacent the rest of the week in training.

    I really don't see a controversy here.

  • In reply to StaryByk3:

    I guess we'll find out Sunday.

  • In reply to StaryByk3:

    Sean better be starting on Sunday.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Rubberbandman189:


  • In reply to Ron Stone:

    Because SJ is a national team goalkeeper and the other two are MLS rejects?

  • In reply to Celt:

    SJ is a (barely) national team goalkeeper that routinely loses his position to other GKs.

    I like SJ, I'd be ecstatic if he was the Fire's starter for the rest of his career. But I also think his ceiling is lower with every season and that both he and Hamid (thanks to injuries in the latters case) are in extreme danger of being passed by the next generation of GKs as heir apparent to Howard.

    SJ losing, or rather having to fight, for his starting position is something that happens every year. I also fail to see why its a controversy.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    Sean probably earned us 8-10 of our 30 points last season. He is an extremely good keeper. He needs to be starting.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    Lampson starting over SJ would be shocking. SJ didn't lose his starting job in a preseason were he only played 60 minutes. If he has, that's a pretty quick judgement and at odds with Klinsman calling him into national camp.I like his shot stopping but get nervous every time the ball is passed to SJ but being "barely" a national team goalie sounds a bit like being a little pregnant. He is an above average MLS goalie and an American international, and the other 2 Fire goalies are rejects. Perhaps they want to trade him as part of the "process".

  • In reply to Celt:

    Johnson is a fringe player for the USNT. He has a total of 5 caps, and only one of those was in a competitive match, which came in the group stage of the 2013 Gold Cup.

  • In reply to Celt:

    Meh, I'm fine with having goalie rejects; you could call half of the starting GKs in MLS rejects from some team or another.

    The words "goalie" and "controversy" just don't really go together in my mind without the word "Philadelphia" in there too. But to each their own.

    As far as "barely" goes- yeah, maybe not the best word choice. But do you think SJ is going to be ordained the 3rd keeper behind Guzan and Howard anytime, ever? I certainly don't. Not unless Hamid, Robles, Yarbrough, Cropper, Rimando and maybe even Bingham and Evan Bush are all injured at the exact same time.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    I cant believe that people are on here knocking Sean Johnson. He was the reason Yallop earned half of the points he earned in these past two terrible seasons. If he is sitting on the bench Sunday, there are some issues with Pauno.

  • In reply to TomazPP:


    I'm not knocking SJ. He's a good GK, above average in MLS, possibly in the top 5 discussion depending on his wavery form.

    I'm just saying it's not going to be a huge surprise if he loses his starting spot at some point, because it's happened like every year. It would be a mild surprise if he wasn't starting on Sunday, but not earth-shattering.

    He's not a be all end all dominant player. I would be far, far less shocked to see SJ on the bench than I was to see Shipp traded.

  • If this doesn't go as they have planned, do you think the powers that be to use the excuse that didn't have their full team available to start the season?

  • In reply to penapirata:

    Haha let's hope not. I imagine they would lean on the "it's a process" or "three year plan narrative"

  • In reply to penapirata:

    What is "this?" The first game against NYCFC? The first two games? Three games? What is the window beyond which the lack of a full team would not be acceptable?

  • In reply to Modibo:

    I'll give them half a season.

  • The keeper situation should be a fun one to watch. I've been a big fan of SJ, but I agree he seems to have hit a ceiling.

    I saw Herculez Gomez was cut. It's probably my USMNT bias coming out, but I think he'd be a decent depth pick up. A veteran presence with MLS experience. Would his price tag be too high for a bench role?

  • In reply to AJties:

    I don't think they're looking at Gomez. Rodriguez has said that the guys they're bringing in are from outside the league.

    Enoch Kofi Adu is a strong possibility.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Kofi Adu is a CDM/B2B correct? Seems it would push Cocis into depth role which I am perfectly fine with. More competent players for the squad.

  • In reply to KChance:


  • Isn't Caistri a striker or outside mid? Why do they have him as a defender. That kid is good around the box.

  • In reply to Bumsteer:

    That's where they list him right now.

  • Is there a Fire Confidential fantasy team on MLSSoccer .com this year?

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    ^great question, maybe a fans of GR league needs to be created?...I named my team TAM FC in honor of the new regime

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    Yep. Will post info today.

  • Join the Fire Confidential fantasy league by entering code 13768-3109.

  • Guys AH must think that he has something this year. Did he show up for the luncheon?

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    He was there.

  • The Fire have announced that Kingsley Bryce has been waived.

  • MLS's washout in the CCL against the Liga MX teams is an embarrassment to MLS. You cannot blame this totally on the schedule differences between the two leagues. If MLS wants to compete for talent, it needs to be able to compete against Liga MX teams. They should come up with a Winter tournament after MLS ends and between the two Liga MX seasons. I also think,outside of Seattle, that MLS fans need to take the CCL more seriously. Playing the games in basically empty stadiums is embarrassing to the league. OK, off my soap box. Hoping the weather gods bring Monday's warm-up a day early. Go Fire!

  • In reply to Krasov:

    I think another issue is that the teams from MLS playing were the best teams in the league like 2 and a half years ago.

    DC might be one of the worst teams in the league this year. RSL haven't been really good for a while. LA lost the majority of their good players. I know that was true of Queretaro and Santos a bit too, so it's not this entirely, but it's still there.

    Also, I think it's telling that Montreal did well by actively preparing for the damn games, instead of just doing the average MLS preseason jazz. This is how the TEAMS need to take it serious.

    (Also Seattle and LA can go eff themselves, I'm glad they lost, CCL be damned. I felt kind of bad for Chris Rolfe but otherwise, whatever.)

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    I was about to add Patrick Nyarko, but then I recalled you're meh on him.

    As for the goalie talk, I think it's between Lampson and SJ for the starting spot. I suspect that McClain hasn't taken the drive down I-55 yet just so he can stay in camp and keep the other two on THEIR toes.

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    I mean, I'm not going to wish bad things upon Nyarko, he's not Wells Thompson or something like that, but yeah, not so much in the caring as with Rolfe. Also he (Nyarko) didn't miss a PK...

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    Well, the main reason MLS teams don't compete well with the Liga MX teams is because Liga MX has more talent, higher payroll, across the board.

    I always think its funny when folks complain or are surprised when MLS teams do poorly in the CCL when playing Liga MX.

    It would be much more surprising if MLS teams defeated Liga MX teams given the general quality of the squads in each league.

    It is no more an 'embarrassment' for MLS to be out-performed by Liga MX in Concacaf than it is for, say, Bayern to beat a team like Dinamo Zagreb in the UEFA CL.

    These are lesser teams facing superior talent.

  • In reply to Roti2000:

    The gulf between, say Queretaro and Seattle (I know that didn't play each other) is nowhere near the gulf between Bayern and, well, pretty much any team but Real and Barca (The CL has been painfully broken the last few seasons...but I digress).

    Also RSL (who aren't being predicted to make the playoffs) actually arguably played better than Tigres over two legs. Yeah, they lost, they weren't better, but it was fairly even, RSL had the chances there to win.

    So you are absolutely right, Liga MX teams are still always going to be rightly favored over MLS teams for the foreseeable future, but the gulf in class isn't so much that MLS teams should be getting embarrassed like they were (other than RSL and kind of Seattle) by Liga MX teams.

  • The Arturo Alvarez signing is finally official.

    One year deal with an option for next year.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Are the options in mls always team options or do they offer player options as well like the nba? I'm assuming it's a team option with Alvarez

  • In reply to AJties:

    Mostly team options.

  • Sorry - off topic, but speaking a bit about ex-Fire players...

    Anyone else see this?


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