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Thursday, February 22

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Fire Fri Jul 29 2011

New Additions Might Not Be Enough for Fire

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for fire crest.jpgWell, that Manchester United game didn't start the midseason break off on a great note for Chicago, but the good news is there's still almost a week to go before their next game, a league match at home against the Philadelphia Union. While most professional teams allow their players a few days off during midseason/all-star game breaks, let's hope that the Fire are sticking around in town practicing, particularly in light of their performance so far this season.

The front office certainly hasn't taken any time off, making a big signing this week in bringing on Mexican National Team midfield veteran Pavel Pardo and trading defenders with Toronto FC, sending Dasan Robinson north for Dan Gargan.

In both chronological order and order of magnitude, let's start with the Pardo acquisition. To make room for him as an international player, the Fire had to cut Serbian midfielder Bratislav Ristic, who's played in 17 matches for Chicago since joining the club last year and was certainly liked by fans for his effort, but still lacking in production.

Terms of his deal with the league and the team weren't released, so from a financial standpoint, it's hard to know whether this can be seen as a big risk or good value. But considering that his name has been tossed around for a few months now as a possible addition (along with the rumors that his price was too high), there's a good chance some decent negotiating went on to bring his price down to a comfortable level for the Fire.

Unlike previous big-name Mexican internationals Cuahtemoc Blanco and Nery Castillo, Pardo plays primarily defensive midfield, but he's got the refined touch that comes from playing soccer at the highest of levels (like two World Cups), and is so often absent in the feet of most MLS players. But with his age (35), it's hard to imagine he'll have the legs to chase down younger midfield attackers like Shalrie Joseph of New England or Brek Shea of Dallas. He'll get his first challenge against Sebastian Le Toux of Philadelphia next week.

But even Blanco had a great year when he first arrived at age 34, playing with the composure and vision of a veteran that more than made up for his lack of speed. Pardo certainly has that ability in him, and more importantly, the maturity to recognize what's expected of him--unlike Nery Castillo, perhaps, who showed up last year with heavy fanfare but clearly didn't fulfill any of his expectations.

Still, Pardo is 35. Professional teams in all sports are always happy to bring on an experienced veteran, aware he's probably only got one or two years left in the tank at best, because their on-field and locker-room presence will provide lots of intangible benefits as the team heads into the postseason. But that's what makes this move a little surprising--while still mathematically possible, it's hard to see the Fire having the turnaround they need to really get into playoff contention. Pardo, while decent, is not the sort of addition that someone like a David Beckham would be, where even with age, he'll still create goals that can push ties into wins. He is a good addition, sure, but I don't think he's exactly what the Fire need most these days as they try and get into the Playoffs.

As far as the defensive trade, I'll be the first to admit I'm a little less sure of the impact that this might have. Dasan Robinson, originally drafted by Chicago in 2006, has been a regular bench player since his first season, and definitely saw a drop in minutes this year as Chicago brought in several new defenders. Dan Gargan has played in 16 matches (out of a possible 23) for Toronto this year, starting 12. But Toronto's goals-against total this year is a league high of 41, nine more than the next-closest team, and is a big reason why the Canadian club is in last place in the Eastern Conference--tied with Chicago on points, actually.

With that in mind, it's hard to see this trade as anything more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as the saying goes. Both teams traded defenders that will most likely see limited minutes, simply trading their defensive depth. The one wrinkle is that Toronto also sent a 2012 MLS SuperDraft second-round pick as well, which is some savvy negotiating on the part of Chicago. Perhaps next year this trade will look a lot better, depending on who they take with that pick, but right now it just seems like a rather inconsequential move.

One final note for the Fire is the news today that former Chicago Fire head coach Bob Bradley was relieved of his head coaching duties by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The move came as quite a surprise, seeing as they re-signed him just barely a year ago (although, admittedly, after appearing to shop around for another coach). With the team underachieving over the past year since the World Cup, it's not totally undeserved, and getting a new coach in before World Cup qualifying begins in earnest next summer is important. That said, it can only be assumed that one of Sunil Gulati's previous targets has maybe lowered their asking price, forcing him to grab him while he can. With Frank Klopas still tagged as an interim head coach, speculation will begin that Bob Bradley might have an offer coming his way from the Fire sooner or later. He led this team from its expansion to both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup titles in their first year and undoubtedly has the skills to succeed again in MLS, but I'd have to say I'd be surprised if he came back right away. He seems like a man who likes new challenges, and while he might not get any great offers from Europe right away, that has to be where he's setting his sights on next.

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