Doran: An active offseason for Fire

It's an exciting week and an active time of the year for the Chicago Fire and the rest of MLS's teams. The "offseason" is the season for hiring coaches, shopping and finding players, nailing down stadium details and shoring up marketing plans.

Fire President and General manager Peter Wilt tells me he prefers January to July.

"For me, the preparation is more exciting than the execution. January is an important time for the team with the draft, trades and transfer period and for the organization as this is an important time for putting together the schedule and selling season tickets and corporate partnerships."

As for the product on the field, like many Fire faithful, I want to know what the goalkeeping situation looks like for 2005.

"We are working to find another team for Henry (Ring)," Wilt told me. "He is a talented goalkeeper and deserves to have an opportunity to start in MLS."

Ring backed Thornton for three years, earned the starting job in 2004 and secured All- Star honors in his first year as a regular in the Fire line-up. But with Thornton back in a Fire uniform, it would be too expensive to keep both on the roster.

"The roster spot and money he would take are likely too valuable to justify his staying in Chicago as the Fire is committed to Zach in 2005. Henry knows this and appreciates our efforts to keep him in the league," added Wilt.

The departures of Evan Whitfield and Dipsy Selolwane to Real Salt Lake don't surprise me. Whitfield is a tremendously valuable player for any club - he's a smart guy and a strong player entering some of his best soccer years.

Whitfield understands that his role as a professional athlete not only includes a winning performance on game days, but a strong performance in the community as well. He coaches club teams, makes public appearances and will be a wonderful representative for his new team.

I believe Selolwane will also be valuable to his new team. My hope is that he will be able to find more playing time to prove himself - something that was lacking in Chicago because of the corps of attackers available to Fire boss Dave Sarachan.

So Real Salt Lake "shopped the Magnificent Mile" during the holidays, but what about other MLS teams?

"We spoke to every team in MLS prior to the new year, but RSL was the only team as eager as us to make moves quickly. Things will certainly heat up at the MLS Combine and the draft," Wilt said.

That brings us to the relative uncertainty of the week. Though order is established - the Fire picks 3rd, 18th, 25th, 35th and 39th in Friday's MLS SuperDraft - trades and deals could force changes by Friday at noon. Wilt reminded me that the league's compliance date was changed from January 1 to March 1 this year - giving some teams breathing room as we roll through draft week.

As daunting as it is to consider change to the Fire troops for 2005, it's equally calming to envision the return of Ante Razov, Andy Herron, Damani Ralph, Jesse Marsch, Chris Armas, Justin Mapp, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown and the rest of the supporting cast, for what will hopefully be a fulfilling Fire New Year.

Chris Doran is the radio play-by-play and television sideline reporter for the Chicago Fire. He welcomes your feedback at cdoran4@msn.com. The columns posted on chicago-fire.com do not necessarily represent the views of the Chicago Fire or MLS.


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