Believe it or not, the Fire open their regular season in less than a month when they visit Inter Miami on Feb. 26. Here are three observations as the Fire continue training camp:
Is a big move incoming?
The Fire have added two starters since last season, bringing in striker Kacper Przybylko (more on him below) and defender Rafael Czichos. Those are two good signings by sporting director Georg Heitz, but more is needed.
Help, however, is apparently on the way.
A source confirmed Friday that the Fire are close to signing Lyon midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri as a designated player. A two-time Champions League winner, the 30-year-old Shaqiri was at Swiss club FC Basel the same time as Heitz, and would fill a glaring need for an experienced attack-minded player who would take some of the burden off Gaston Gimenez, Jhon Duran and whoever is signed as the team’s third designated player.
If this goes through, the move would also be a statement of intent for the Fire, as Shaqiri would represent one of the biggest signings of the MLS offseason. It would also be a major use of owner Joe Mansueto’s significant funds.
Just as importantly, news of the impending transfer excited the Fire fan base, a group waiting for something electrifying. Shaqiri qualifies.
Przybylko is a good start
One of the knocks against Heitz has been that he has overlooked proven MLS talent. He took steps to shed that reputation by bringing in Przybylko, who scored 12 times last season for the Union.
Perhaps more would be expected of Przybylko if he were a designated player, but he’s not. Instead, a double-digit output would represent a good return on the Fire’s investment, something they didn’t get last season from designated player Robert Beric. Not using a designated-player spot on a striker also gives the Fire more freedom and money to bolster their midfield with higher-salary players, which it seems like they’ll do with Shaqiri.
Przybylko will be counted on to score goals and provide leadership for what might be a very young team.
‘‘I want to help the team as much as I can,’’ Przybylko said. ‘‘Yeah, I think that’s something about leadership. I just want to help everyone, especially the young kids. So I’m going to do my best to my biggest and most ability to improve everything that this team wants to accomplish this season.’’
COVID is still a focus
The Fire and MLS are entering their third season in the pandemic. Coach Ezra Hendrickson said the Fire are trying to go beyond MLS’ safety protocols, something he said might give them a competitive advantage if they can avoid COVID-related absences.
Hendrickson said all the players are vaccinated.
‘‘It’s very difficult if you’re losing guys based on a COVID outbreak or whatever within the team,’’ Hendrickson said. ‘‘So we are doing our best to make sure that it doesn’t affect us too much.’’