LAUDERHILL, Fla. — Mum is the word for the Chicago Fire right now, but they are hoping to make some roster announcements in the coming days. They could certainly use that, too.
The Fire are just two weeks away from the start of their first preseason under new head coach Veljko Paunovic, but there are only 14 players currently on the roster and all of them are 28-years old or younger. Paunovic along with general manager Nelson Rodriguez purged the 2015 Fire squad not long after Paunovic’s surprise appointment, disposing of the bulk of a dreadful team that finished 8-20-6, and in last place of the Eastern Conference last year.
As a result, several spots need to be filled, most likely with veterans. The Fire are currently in negotiations with several unspecified players, and might be able to finalize some deals before the week is over.
“Ideally, it would be to have the roster ready for the first day of the preseason on the 24th, but it’s not easy having 14 players on the roster,” Paunovic told SBI. “We are working on that and we are very close. This week we will have something that we probably can announce. I hope so.”
Where those players will come from, Europe or elsewhere, Paunovic would not say. Paunovic also would not go into detail as to whether the Fire are pursuing signing a third Designated Player to join David Accam and Gilberto on the current roster. The Fire attempted to sign a big-name DP during the past two seasons – first, Jermaine Jones in 2014, and then Didier Drogba in 2015 – but were unsuccessful each time due to reasons outside their control.
Signing a Designated Player this winter certainly does not seem like it is out of the question, but it is not a guarantee either.
“I think today everything is possible, but it’s the same thing: We’re working on that,” said Paunovic. “We will see what the team needs, that’s the most important, and we’re building the team most of all.”
“We will announce everything – what we did, how we did it – once the job is done,” added Paunovic. “As general manager Nelson Rodriguez said, total transparency as soon as we have our job done.”
As for the No. 1 draft pick that they hold in Thursday’s MLS Draft, the Fire are still weighing what to do with it. They could use it pick up a stout prospect like defenders Joshua Yaro and Brandon Vincent or midfielders Omar Holness and Jack Harrison, or they could trade down to stockpile picks or other assets.
Yaro is seen by many as the favorite to have his name called first if the Fire keep the pick, but the Fire are keeping their cards close to the vest.
“Good player, good player. That’s all I can say,” said Paunovic when asked about Yaro at the MLS Combine.
No matter what the Fire do this Thursday, there will be plenty of change in the air once the balls get rolling in preseason camp. Not only is there a new head coach, but much of the roster will be different from last year.
Some expect that much change to equate to another tough year, but Paunovic is not ready to say as much.
“What’s realistic is to improve the numbers from last season, and I think at this point of the year it’s too early to talk about it,” said Paunovic. “Once we have the team, once we are ready, I can say what’s realistic. Once I prepare the team with all our staff and support that we have in our club, once we have the team ready, I can say, ‘This is realistic what we can expect.’
“Right now we have 14 players. If some of the players that we want to bring here don’t work, well it’s too early to talk about it.”