BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Many Chicago Fire fans have been frustrated by the club’s relative inactivity in the transfer market. But general manager Nelson Rodriguez insists he “feels good about [the team's] progress,” and reasserted the club’s immediate priority “remains central defense.”
With just 15 players contracted for 2016, new head coach Veljko Paunovic has four recognized defenders in Eric Gehrig, Joevin Jones, Patrick Doody, and Kingsley Bryce. But only Gehrig and the versatile Matt Polster have experience at center back--so it is no surprise to learn that recruiting starting quality center backs is the Fire’s number-one priority.
That's especially true given the team's decision to not exercise several players' options. Those include captain Jeff Larentowicz, who could be on his way to the LA Galaxy, Adailton, Daneil Cyrus, and Greg Cochrane. All of them hail from a defense that conceded a league-equaling high 58 goals last year.
With all of that said, the Men in Red have a number of spots to fill. Naturally, there have been some rumors--like those linking the team with Olympiacos’ Mexican striker Alan Pulido. For now, those will remain just rumors, according to Rodriguez. “I know it’s boring to most fans and most media, but it’s not our nature to comment publicly on players or targets that we have," he said. "I will add this though: Our priority remains central defense.”
Rodriguez himself has spent some of the holidays back home in New Jersey, while Paunovic has been in Madrid with his family. Both will travel to Florida for the MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale from Jan. 7 through 12, then to Baltimore for the MLS Draft on Jan. 14, then return to Chicago ahead of the start of pre-season on Jan. 24.
“We feel good about our progress,” Rodriguez said by phone from New Jersey. “We have our plan, we are disciplined against our plan, we remain committed to that plan, and feel that when we’re finished, we will be satisfied. I know that fans at times can be impatient but I also think generally that this time of year is difficult to conclude transactions because of the nature of the holidays and the impending opening of transfer windows throughout Europe.”
Rodriguez expects significant movement ahead of the squad’s arrival for the first day of pre-season, though it's tough to tell if any major arrivals will come in the next week or so.
“My experience tells me that every negotiation and every transaction moves at its own rate and pace,” he said. “We, for the moment, remain satisfied with our progress with some of the targets that we’ve identified, and we still believe that we are on our timeline for completion of some important transactions.”