Sporting director Georg Heitz and coach Raphael Wicky don’t have to scramble as the Fire enter 2021. The roster is pretty full, and the Fire know what kind of style they play.
That doesn’t mean everything is clear.
With the obvious caveat that more players could come and go, here are three questions as the calendar turns to a new year.
Are the Fire better?
The offseason has seen the Fire bring in striker Chinonso Offor, right back Jhon Espinoza and winger Stanislav Ivanov while dealing Djordje Mihailovic to Montreal for up to $1 million in allocation money and saying goodbye to CJ Sapong and Brandt Bronico.
So while it’s clear the Fire have been busy, it’s not as obvious whether they’re actually better.
Mihailovic and Sapong are known commodities, but the Fire made the decision to move on from both. Offor, Espinoza and Ivanov will be playing in their first MLS seasons. Espinoza (more on him below) and Ivanov could be Day 1 starters, and Offor figures to back up Robert Beric.
Any of those three becoming key cogs would greatly help the Fire, who otherwise have made it clear they’re hoping continuity and internal improvements help them get better after a disappointing 2020 season.
What about the labor situation?
The last thing anybody needed was more uncertainty, but the league’s business relationship with the players could be another complication to the 2021 season.
On Tuesday, it was reported that MLS would invoke the force majeure clause in the collective-bargaining agreement. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement after 30 days, the CBA that was agreed to in June could be voided and potentially lead to a work stoppage.
The players don’t seem receptive to the league’s move. In a statement, the MLS Players Association said, “this tone-deaf action by the league discredits the previous sacrifices made by players and the enormous challenges they overcame in 2020.”
The possible labor issues mean it’s even more advantageous that the Fire completed much of their offseason work, though delays could make it harder for them to integrate new players.
Where’s an intriguing position battle?
Signed last February, Boris Sekulic was supposed to be the answer at right back, but two moves since the end of last season make it clear the 29-year-old will have to fight for his position.
The first was the signing of Espinoza, who will be 22 when the season starts. Espinoza’s youth wouldn’t preclude him from starting because Wicky has shown little hesitation to use youngsters in his first 11.
The second was leaving Sekulic unprotected in the expansion draft, though Austin FC passed on the chance to pick him up. That means Sekulic, who was reliable defensively but didn’t provide the offensive push expected of right backs, might have to get by Espinoza for playing time.