Chicago Fire moving forward with Kenneth Kronholm as goalkeeper controversy arises

Chicago Fire goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm (27) makes a save against New York City during the second half at SeatGeek Stadium. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

By Ernesto Hernandez

The Chicago Fire’s 1-1 result versus NYCFC may have been the least important part of that game. Not lost in the shuffle was the curious line-up choices made by head coach Vejlko Paunovic. Newcomer Kenneth Kronholm starting in goal in place of David Ousted certainly raised some eyebrows.

While Kronholm was not at fault for New York’s goal, one thing is evident: We have a goalie controversy on our hands.

Paunovic’s words after the game serve to give more credence to said theory.

When asked if Ousted would start against D.C. United, Paunovic said, “No, Kronholm is.”

Uncharacteristically blunt from Paunovic who usually attempts to “soften” his words when it comes to decisions such as these.

For Ousted’s part being benched not just for the last game, but going forward, was news to him.

“That’s the first time I hear of it, so , no, I haven’t been told that. But, like I said, my job is to go in and work hard,” replied Ousted.

Benching anyone is tough enough and communication is key. That Ousted was not told by his manager of the switch is concerning and may result in something down the line.

The goalkeeper situation is an area the Fire have been trying to secure going back to the tail end of last season. Despite starting off strong, then-starting keeper, Richard Sanchez, sputtered down the stretch and it became clear if the Fire wanted to contend, they needed an upgrade.

Up steps David Ousted.

Chicago acquired the 34-year-old off waivers from D.C. United, coincidentally their next opponent, and by all accounts, their new starting goalkeeper. Ousted’s played all 13 games prior to the game against New York and, aside from a few communication errors, did a decent job. To bench him came as a surprise to many.

For his part, Kronholm was acquired in early May and, perhaps in his favor, holds dual citizenship in the United States and Germany. Before coming to the Fire, he was a starter for 2. Bundesliga-side, Holstein Kiel, where he played for five seasons.

Judging by the comments made by Nelson Rodriguez, perhaps we should not be so surprised that the change happened rather quickly.

“Kenneth is a player that we have scouted and pursued at length. We believe his talents fit our game model very well and he was really committed to joining our Club,” Rodriguez said when the acquisition of Kronholm was officially announced on May 7.

In his postgame presser, Paunovic added, “I think we’ve said in the past that Kronholm was our long-term target and we always thought that he is going to improve our style and we expect that he’s going to do better even though today he just showed glimpses of his capability of delivering very good balls in the build-up.”

With only one guaranteed year at the club and an option for 2020. Ousted always looked like a short-term solution. Despite being only one year younger than Ousted, Kronholm is under contract all the way through 2021 with a club option for 2022.

Kronholm was always going to be the long-term goalkeeper and with that being the case, maybe they wanted to start that transition as soon as possible. Ousted has done a serviceable job but perhaps not quite to the level the team was expecting.

It was an odd move to acquire another goalkeeper if the plan was not to play him straight away, especially considering there were two other goalies behind Ousted, including last season’s starter in Sanchez.

If the Fire have decided that Kronholm will be their starting keeper from now on, they cannot deviate from that situation if, or when, he makes a blunder. The keeper position is one that requires stability and it’s something that has been mentioned by a few of the players. Everyone else on the team needs to become familiar with Kronholm so as to not have some of those communication errors like the ones early in the season.

Stability at that position is not something the Fire have had since, arguably, Sean Johnson. Even when they made the playoffs back in 2017, it seemed that the club was ready to move on from the likes of  Jorge Bava and Matt Lampson.

While it’s unknown whether the lack of communication between Paunovic and Ousted will have some sort of repercussions down the line, it looks like we’re set for the “Era of Kenneth Kronholm.”

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