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Fire Tue Jan 27 2015

Chicago Fire: Pieces Falling Into Place

Chicago FireEven as a hard, gritty snow falls like windblown sand in the faces of earthbound Chicagoans, it grows continually hard to deny that, with every day, spring is creeping ever nearer. For supporters of the Chicago Fire that feeling has accelerated over the past few days with the finalizing of several very large and important moves.

The team and front office have made such strides over the offseason that the air swirling around the coming season has recently been rather sweetly scented with an aroma of cautious optimism, but there were still some stray notes of uncertainty. There was the matter of the team's jersey sponsorship with Quaker, which expired at the start of the 2015 season. Then there was the matter of the lingering, will-they-or-won't-they dance between the club and Wigan Athletic midfielder Shaun Maloney who expressed interest in joining the club only to see negotiations stall. Finally, a television deal had yet to be reached or announced.

All of that changed this past week. By Monday, the first day of spring training, the Fire had shored up all of those issues in a timely manner allowing for the focus to fall squarely on the team and its season ahead.

As far as the Quaker sponsorship, the front office and the Chicago-based company reached a deal last week, extending their partnership through at least the coming season, though details have yet to be fully announced. Shoring up the sponsorship is a very important matter and one that shows the team taking a more aggressive stance with regard to its future and relevance in the market.

As regards Maloney, the Fire faithful had been buffeted to and fro, swelling on reports of his arrival only to be dashed with each competing offer from another English club. But Sunday, when the music ended and the lights came on the 32-year-old Scottish international was wearing a Fire kit. Maloney, the third Designated Player signed by the club this offseason, is a creative two-way midfielder with over a decade's worth of experience playing first for Celtic FC in the Scottish Premier League, followed by moves to Aston Villa and Wigan in the EPL.

Then on Monday—a day often bereft of auspicious announcements—as the team met at their newly-erected training field on the city's northwest side to kick off the preseason, the club announced a new three-year television broadcast deal with Comcast SportsNet. This is a significant upgrade from previous seasons, which saw the Fire partnered with local station My50. With the Comcast SportsNet agreement Fire games reach their widest audience to date, with CSN being on most cable packages within the state, as well as Iowa and Indiana.

In all, the moves made in the run-up to the 2015 MLS season are some of the strongest that Fire fans have yet seen. The team still sorely wants for skilled players to fill out its backline, but as far as attacking talent goes the team brass made good on their promises to open the vault for the right players. While it is true that Maloney, as with other Fire Designated Players Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam, may not yet be a household name in the same manner as Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard, this season ought to prove that he's every bit as worthy of the Designated Player tag.

Team Notes

Former Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch, who spent the last two seasons as the starting keeper for the San Jose Earthquakes, rejoined the team on Monday as reported by Guillermo Rivera on Twitter. Busch will fill the back-up role vacated by Kyle Reynish who was dealt to the New York Red Bulls, and will likely see significant action should Sean Johnson be called up to the US national team for this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Brazilian midfielder Alex has been re-signed by the team.

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