Nelson Rodriguez and the Chicago Fire planning for the future with new Designated Players in mind

By Ernesto Hernandez

There was a lot happening in the world of the Chicago Fire this past week. Chicago traded for Francisco Calvo, signed Brandt Bronico to a new contract and broke their three-game winless streak by beating the New England Revolution.

All these things also coincided with Fire GM & President, Nelson Rodriguez, hosting the first media roundtable of 2019. He answered an array of questions including reports of the team relocating into the city, a “brand refresh,” and state of the current team.

To no surprise, the move back into the city of Chicago dominated the conversation but arguably as important is Nelson Rodriguez gave some insight in what he envisions for the Fire at the moment and for the future. Of particular note, he mentioned the status of the team’s three Designated Players.

“You know, I’ll also say this, which might be a surprise, but all three of our DPs are out of contract at the end of this year,” Rodriguez said.

“We have not taken a decision on any of them and won’t until the year is over, and I don’t know what decisions they will take.”

Those three designated players are Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, and Aleksandar Katai.

Rodriguez continued, “But we will be scouting for DPs. We have some players that we’re tracking now that would require DP status and DP level of investment, and I also have permission from ownership that if the right player in the right circumstances comes along, we may sign a DP in the summer, and if we can’t add him to our current roster, loan him out and then just bring him back in January.”

It’s not usually that Rodriguez is so open with his plans. In essence, he is ready for life without one or, perhaps, all of his DPs heading into next season. Out of those three names, the most logical name to not be here next season is Schweinsteiger because of his age and the likelihood that he’ll hang the boots up at the end of the season.

But Rodriguez went further when talking about the Kenneth Kronholm, their newest goalkeeper. On the surface, it seems a strange signing considering the Fire acquired David Ousted prior to the season but with Ousted only signed through this season, it could be an indicator that it’s a one-and-done deal and Ousted leaves at the end of the season.

Going back to potential DP signings, it makes sense to be looking to the future especially with a move back to Chicago in the cards.  A brand refresh, new image, what have you, needs an exciting and recognizable name to spearhead that endeavor. In tandem with a successful product on the field, a big-name player should be enough to entice more people to a game.

The location of SeatGeek Stadium was/is a problem but it’s not the most glaring one. The team being so poor, mixed in with a few good seasons, is ultimately what garnered low attendance. They drew well during in 2017 when they made the playoffs and, before that, when Cuauhtemoc Blanco was on the team.

Depending on which designated player leaves, the Fire need someone like a Blanco. A guy not only with a track record but who is still good enough to have a significant impact on the field. As Rodriguez has mentioned in the past, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Mexican player. While it would be a bonus considering the demographics in Chicago, there are plenty of good players out there who can draw a crowd.

But that’s the million dollar question. Who is out there and in which position would it make the most sense? Of those DPs out of contract, one is a midfielder and two of those are in attack. Logically, those are the spots one or more DPs should cover.

The most obvious name -and one that will be in high demand should he come to MLS- is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. He ticks all the boxes. He’s a striker, still just 30 years old, has played for teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid and he’s Mexican. We saw the reaction when Blanco first landed in Chicago. It would be exponentially more for Hernandez. With Inter Miami and others interested, it would take some convincing to get him to the Fire.

Another name is Robert Lewandowski. Similar to Hernandez, he’s a striker and has expressed admiration for MLS and its progress over the years. The only problem with that is he appears to prefer Los Angeles. But perhaps with Frankowski on the team and Chicago’s large Polish population, he could be persuaded to don the red-and-white.

A less attractive name given his position would be Hector Moreno. He’s a name that has been discussed in the past and one the Fire were actually close to signing last season had the league not intervened at the last minute. His track record speaks for itself and he’d be a more than capable veteran to lead that backline.

Those are but a few names the Fire could consider and Rodriguez probably has a longer list of players who he thinks fit the bill.

As far as the current roster, Rodriguezsums it up, “I think we’re deep — we have a deeper roster. We have more variety, and I like us. Now, time will tell, and we’ll see how it all goes, but I do think we’re a playoff team, and I think we’re a damn good team.”

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