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Fire Mon Aug 04 2014

Chicago Fire Jonesing For Real Designated Player

Chicago Fire soccerEarlier this week, supporters of the Chicago Fire felt an unfamiliar frisson of anticipation rush through their collective consciousness. It was a startling moment, rippling goose-flesh and drying saliva among many in the Greater Chicago Area. It all started with a tweet from MLS Transfers, quoting Alexi Lalas, which indicated that a deal was in the works to bring US Men's National Team star Jermaine Jones to the Fire. That this information was leaked less than 30 minutes before Chicago's Wednesday clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps -- a tepid 0-0 draw unable to provide even a modicum of intrigue -- seemed a calculated move, overshadowing the inaction on the field and sending tongues a-wagging. The number being tossed around was in the range of $3 million, a relative steal when a player of his caliber is concerned, but also a sign that owner Andrew Hauptman was serious about opening the vault door for the right player.

Jones, one of the biggest surprises on the US squad at the 2014 World Cup, would be the creative spark that the Fire currently lack in the midfield, bringing a ferocious competitive nature and real athleticism. As well he would be salve on the wound that came two weeks earlier when the Fire missed out on bringing DaMarcus Beasley back home, seeing him instead don the orange of the Houston Dynamo.

The rest of the week leading into Saturday's home game against conference rival Columbus was positively electric, with banter covering the potential amount of money for Jones, questions about his age and abilities, even the man's Instagram game came under came under scrutiny. Jones, who owns a house in Los Angeles, has become something of a legitimate social butterfly since his campaign in Brazil and just the past 10 days posted photos of him partying with Mike Tyson, Paris Hilton, Chuck Liddell, and Charlie Sheen, with Sheen sporting a USMNT kit emblazoned with Jones' name and number.

Chicago, one must recall, has a sordid, unspectacular history with Designated Players. Cuauhtemoc Blanco serves as the lone exception, embodying the founding principles of the DP; that they make an impact in both the play on the field, as well as the perception of the team and sport in the local market, perhaps even on a national level as well. One must recall that the Designated Player rule was enacted as a mechanism to bring David Beckham to a heavily salary-capped league, as such all other DPs are judged against him.

Blanco was a calculated move by the Fire organization, as he was a legend in his home country of Mexico, and could potentially galvanize a local Mexican population still interested less in adopting the Fire over supporting Mexican league clubs from afar. In the end his play on the field went far in helping to endear many new and on-the-fence fans. For many not around long enough to remember the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Blanco was the first Fire legend.

In the years since Blanco's departure, he's been the gold standard against which all other DPs in Chicago are measured. To say that none have come close to matching his impact is an understatement. If one were to combine the impact of all DPs since Blanco, players such as Nery Castillo, Federico Puppo, and yes, even Juan Luis Anangono, the sum total would still come up wanting.

But now the Fire faithful were given a chance to believe again -- that ownership had finally opened their eyes to the progress being made around the league in terms of signing big-name players, for big salaries, and they wanted in on the action. A case study for which can be made of the Seattle Sounders, when last year's shock signing of Clint Dempsey helped to turn around the team on the field, directing national attention their way, through his skillful performances for both club and country. It also comes through smaller, though no less important methods such as his July unveiling as the lone player to join Lionel Messi on North American covers of FIFA 2015, the coming installment of the wildly popular video game series. There was a time when that honor was held by Blanco, meaning that all who purchased the game in North America would become familiar with him and the Fire every time they saw the cover. Dempsey and the Sounders have been on a tear this year, even with his absence for the World Cup. They currently lead the league in points, as well as overall attendance. A number of the fans who come out to see the Sounders play will have done so for the chance to see Dempsey, thanks to his work in Brazil this summer, and many more because the Sounders are a force to be reckoned with this season. A quality DP can do much and more for the club, cementing their place in the local sports landscape, and even bring national recognition along the way.

While the Fire are assuredly not in the dire straits that teams like New England find themselves, the prospect of a DP signing like Jermaine Jones did a great deal to buoy hopes surrounding the team. Yet it all came crashing down on Saturday morning, when reporter Ives Galarcep, writing for Goal.com, reported that Jones had rejected the Fire's offer. The report shed some light on the potential deal that was left on the table, one that would have seen Jones among the league's highest paid players. According to Galarcep, the Fire were prepared to offer him a contract worth $6 million over 2.5 years, including the remainder of the current season. However, since the Goal.com article broke, both parties have denied that the negotiations are indeed off. Fire head coach Frank Yallop stated in his post-game press conference on Saturday night that nothing had been finalized, and that it was currently Jones' choice to make. Jones, for his part, countered the news by tweeting the following:


As the saying goes, hope dies last, and so for the time being it appears that rumors of the demise of Jones in a Fire jersey have been greatly exaggerated. At least, we hope.

Oh, right, yes. There was a game on Saturday. Another draw. That makes 13 so far, only 3 away from tying their own record for most draws in an MLS season, which is the Mr. Irrelevant of MLS team statistics. It has been a failing of the midfield of late that there just isn't enough creative play emerging from there, leading to balls bombing up from the back, usually skipping over the end line with no interference. Mike Magee put the Fire ahead on a penalty kick before the break, and coming right out of it Federico Higuain hit a tight little shot from outside the box to level things up. The goals were bookended by lots of hail-mary long-ball passes, good stops by the Milkman, Sean Johnson, and solid, if joy-stymying, play. Things will have to get better and soon. If not Jermaine Jones, then hopefully one of the dominoes that Yallop has in mind will soon fall in place. Just please, let's make sure that it's a Designated Player worthy of such a title.

 

Rob / August 4, 2014 1:43 PM

As a Fire fan I would love to add anyone with offensive creativity and talent to the roster. As a Chicagoan I'd love to see Jones play. As a National fan, I have to think Jones staying in a more competitive European league is good for the national team.

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