The Fire’s already-eventful offseason ended with a bang Sunday.
On the eve of the first day of preseason training, the Fire finally announced the purchase of Scotland midfielder Shaun Maloney from English second-division team Wigan Athletic. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed but Maloney is the Fire’s third new Designated Player of the offseason, following the signings of Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam.
Maloney, who took his physical Sunday and will be introduced 9:15 a.m. Monday at Toyota Park, is the latest and probably biggest infusion of new blood the Fire desperately needed entering this offseason. And as they wanted, he’ll spend the entire preseason with the Fire.
“It’s important to have players in from the start of preseason and get them integrated into the team and with the other players,” Fire coach Frank Yallop said in a news release. “It takes time to learn each others’ traits and how they go about things on the field, so it’s great to have Shaun in with the group from the start. We worked very hard to get this deal done and feel very good that he’s finally with us now.”
Now that Maloney is with the Fire, they can move further away from an awful 2014.
That season was perhaps the dreariest in franchise history. They played to 18 ties and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years while playing dull soccer with an earnest but mostly anonymous roster. Following the loan of bust Juan Luis Anangono, the Fire spent the second half of the season without a DP, a fact that raised legitimate questions about the direction and ambition of the franchise.
While not all the questions around the club have been answered, the Fire will be a dramatically different team when they open the season March 6 in Los Angeles against the defending-champion Galaxy. Instead of waiting for Maloney to arrive this summer after his Wigan contract expired, the Fire completed the purchase and were able to get him to Chicago in time for a full preseason.
And because of that, when the Fire face LA all three of their DP slots will be used. They will also have a clear and noticeable plan – use their speed to attack, attack, and attack again.
Maloney, who turned 32 on Saturday, figures to direct that attack from somewhere in the midfield. He has made 37 appearances for the Scottish national team and has played professionally for Scotland’s Celtic and also English teams Aston Villa and Wigan, winning a surprise FA Cup with the latter in 2013.
He could have returned to Celtic or stayed in England with Leicester City or a host of other EPL teams, but instead chose to continue his career in Chicago with the Fire.
“I owe a lot to the manager Frank Yallop and the owner Andrew Hauptman for getting this done. I certainly didn’t expect it to get done this quickly, so I appreciate the faith that they’ve shown in me,” Maloney said in a statement. “It’s a brilliant league and I’m really hopeful that I’m going to enjoy Chicago and be a big part of what the club is building. I’d also like to show respect for my previous club and thank the owner and manager over at Wigan for letting this happen.”
That said, Maloney isn’t without risks. He only played 13 times for Wigan during the 2013-14 season after hip surgery.
Wigan itself is five points from avoiding relegation to the third tier of English soccer, and earlier this season was embroiled in controversy after chairman Dave Whelan made racist and anti-Semitic comments. Manager Malky Mackay was hired in November but was under investigation for sending racist and homophobic text messages while working at a previous job, bringing more crisis to the club that was relegated from the Premier League in 2013.
NOTE: The Fire also announced they have re-signed midfielder Alex. Alex has appeared in 75 regular-season games for the Fire.