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Fire Fri Dec 19 2014

Chicago Fire Winter Transfer Season Breakdown

Chicago FireSnow is a phenomenon often taken as a given in wintertime, but it really often relies on a rather specific set of circumstances falling into place before things come tumbling down from the skies. The conditions, from low-pressure weather systems to the presence of atmospheric particles that act as ice nuclei around which crystals form, are many and complex. So too, then, is the situation the same for Major League Soccer in the winter transfer season, that it relies on a confluence of events happening at just the right moment to produce something wonderful, though it can often end up ruining things just the same.

Take the MLS season, for instance, which is one of a handful of domestic leagues in the world that doesn't adhere to the FIFA calendar. That schedule, set by the sport's international governing body, sees a majority of countries leagues play their season from August to May, with several week-long breaks implemented to allow for international team play. MLS operates on a schedule that runs from March until November, and does not always allot space for international games along the way. More discussion on that will be had later, though.

What this means for the MLS offseason is that when teams are looking to acquire players, teams are loath to negotiate player movements when their season is just over halfway finished, especially if the player in question is an integral part of their season's campaign whether it be for silverware or just to avoid relegation. So MLS has, over the past few years, begun to look at leagues who have similarly concluded play as a place to buy talent. Several Scandinavian countries' soccer leagues don't keep the FIFA schedule, on account of their weather conditions, and so Norway's Tippeligaen and the Swedish Allsvenskan, have proved to be a prime hunting ground at the start of this offseason.

For long time watchers of American soccer, it should come as a delicious piece of irony to find MLS buying players away from Scandinavian leagues, as they have always been a place where young American talent seeking to break into Europe often get their start. They often offer a more competitive wage for players than the MLS league minimum salary, and given their proximity to top-flight leagues like the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga the relative ease of making a move to one of those leagues appears greater than, say playing at home.

And so it came to be that the Chicago Fire went on a buying spree of sorts in Scandinavia. In the past weeks we have seen the acquisition of forward Kennedy Igboananike from AIK in Sweden, midfielder Michael Stephens from Norway's Stabaek (coached by former Fire head coach Bob Bradley), and now there continues rumbling reports out of Sweden suggesting that Ghanaian striker David Accam may well be the Fire's next big pickup. Accam is a particularly exciting target, having scored 30 goals in 62 games since joining Allsvenskan side Helsingborgs IF in 2012. Accam has also attracted attention from the English Premier League, with The Daily Mail having linked him with interest from Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion, and Newcastle. It would be a thrill to see an MLS team outbid several EPL teams for a young attacking talent such as Accam, one just has to hope that all the fickle elements are in place for such a coup. What all these signings and potential targets have in common though is that they are young, talented players with potential futures on their respective national teams who will bring a different level of experience to broaden the talent pool in Chicago.

It shouldn't go without mention though, that a big factor in these signings is simply that their leagues played on the same schedule as MLS. The offseason overlap between MLS' March to November schedule and the FIFA dictated August to May causes several issues related to player acquisition and retention. The most notable recent example of this is the saga of Frank Lampard. Lampard, the iconic Chelsea midfielder was acquired by expansion side New York City FC as a Designated Player in July of this year but loaned back to NYCFC parent club Manchester City to stay fit ahead of NYCFC's inaugural season. Lampard, however, has proved to be an one of the key parts of not only Man City's EPL campaign, where they currently sit in second place on the table, but also their run at the UEFA Champions League, as they have advanced into the Round of 16. With Man City unlikely to release Lampard in time for NYCFC's preseason, the club's debut into the league likely been tarnished long before first kick.

So while Chicago has placed their hopes in younger players without the cache of a Frank Lampard, they will also not have to contend with the shifting winds of fortune when their preseason begins. MLS is not likely to ever adopt the FIFA season schedule as their own, for reasons related to weather and competing against other domestic sports leagues, but one has to wonder what kind of talent they'd likely be able to acquire if their seasons aligned.

As of Thursday evening the Fire had completed the transfer of mostly-innocuous Designated Player Juan-Luis AnangonĂ³ to the mostly-innocuous Club Universidad de Guadalajara of Mexico's Liga MX. La U. de Guadalajara are the third of three teams playing in the city of Guadalajara, after Chivas de Guadalajara and Atlas, both teams which rank among the most popular Mexican teams at home and abroad.

AnangonĂ³'s time in Chicago was less than spectacular, though it should serve as much to highlight the Fire's continued issues with players signed at the Designated Player level as AnangonĂ³'s own shortcomings as a player. Perhaps it is that the expectation which comes with the title positions players unfairly in fans eyes, signalling a higher level of finesse and proficiency, not just a mechanism for handling a higher price tag within the league structure.

UPDATE: As of this posting, the Fire have taken the wraps off Accam making him their second Designated Player signing of this offseason. With the transfer of AnangonĂ³, the club now has one remaining slot for such a signing.

 
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