Coming off a five-win, 23-point 2020 season in which they were often wasteful in front of goal, the Fire chose to mostly stand pat and hope for improvement from within. While letting go of proven attackers Djordje Mihailovic and CJ Sapong, the team brought in striker Chinonso Offor and speedy winger Stanislav Ivanov to fortify the offense.
After the news this week, the Fire’s forward depth will be tested even more.
Ivanov, expected to add pace and finishing to the midfield and compensate for the loss of Mihailovic, was ruled out for at least four months after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee.
The Fire also are expected to be without Fabian Herbers, who revealed on his podcast that he’s likely to miss four to six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered in the preseason victory against Philadelphia last Saturday. In the same match, Elliot Collier suffered an injured left ankle and is expected to miss time, too.
“It’s an opportunity for some other players to step in,” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said. “That’s why we have a lot of guys, and that’s how we treat it. That’s how we now work with it.”
With Ivanov, Herbers and Collier recuperating, even more will be asked of Przemyslaw Frankowski, Ignacio Aliseda, Luka Stojanovic and maybe even homegrown Brian Gutierrez. And there’s always the possibility that Alvaro Medran is pushed further up the field.
Indeed, there’s the potential that a winning attacking midfield can arise from that group. Medran likely would do well anywhere on the field, Frankowski’s speed is dangerous, a second MLS season could help Aliseda and the Fire are eager to see Stojanovic after a knee injury ruined his 2020.
“You never wish an injury to a player,” Wicky said. “Unfortunately, it’s part of the game and it happens, and then as a coaching staff, you have to try to deal with it the best you can. That’s what we’re doing.”
While Herbers and Collier shouldn’t miss a huge chunk of the season, the same isn’t true for Ivanov, a Bulgarian international who made his debut with the senior national team in 2019. It’s likely that Ivanov, who was expected to compete for a starting spot, was in better position to contribute immediately than fellow newcomer Offor, who’s behind 12-goal scorer and designated player Robert Beric.
During Ivanov’s absence, the Fire’s premise that improvement is coming just from being together for a second year after a topsy-turvy 2020 will be tested. Now, three weeks before the season, the Fire are dealing with more injury problems that could further complicate that test.
It doesn’t sound like reinforcements are coming, either.
“Right now, no, we are not signing any new players,” Wicky said. “The club, and I mentioned that last week as well, is always looking for players. That’s the work the club has to do, always having the eyes open, but we’re not actively looking to sign new players.”