The Fire have a lot to do before the 2020 season. And that has nothing to do with the business side of the franchise.
Coming off yet another non-playoff campaign, the Fire have roster flexibility and open Designated Player spots. There were some positives in 2019, but the result was all too familiar despite one of the highest payrolls in MLS.
Going position by position, here’s what he Fire have to work with this offseason.
Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic seem confident in Kenneth Kronholm, who was acquired May 7 and quickly supplanted David Ousted. After a shaky start, Kronholm showed some improvement and ended the season with five shutouts.
But Rodriguez and Paunovic’s judgment and handling of the goalie position has been poor. Instead of looking at his positives and trying to improve his negatives, the Fire shipped out Sean Johnson after the 2016 season and have seen him blossom with New York City FC. The Fire, meanwhile, have started seven keepers in league matches over the past three seasons.
The Fire spent much of the first half of the season looking for answers before things settled with Johan Kappelhof playing right back, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Francisco Calvo in the middle, and Jonathan Bornstein at left back.
With Schweinsteiger retired, the Fire have choices to make about whether they pursue a starting-level center back or right back. Do they return Kappelhof to the middle, or keep him where he played in 2019 and try to find a partner for Calvo? Assuming Bornstein and Calvo return, the Fire are banking on a 35-year-old player maintaining his high level (Bornstein), and another (Calvo) whose former team Minnesota United seemed happy to watch him go in May and reached the playoffs without him.
The Fire have already made the splashy addition of Real Madrid youth product Alvaro Medran, but there’s perhaps no area on the field with more questions.
When he spoke to the media in October, Rodriguez said he was meeting soon with captain Dax McCarty, Designated Player Aleksandar Katai, and would-be Designated Player Nicolas Gaitan. Nothing has come out about those players’ futures and what happened in those discussions. Katai seemed to be an odd-man out during the stretch run, coming off the bench for three straight games during the Fire’s futile playoff chase.
By the end of the season, Przemyslaw Frankowski was perhaps the Fire’s most dynamic attacker, and 24-year-old Brandt Bronico asserted himself in the middle of the formation. Even with those two, the midfield is one place ripe for a potential big-name Designated Player.
Speaking of Designated Players, the Fire and Nemanja Nikolic parted company after the season. Nikolic scored 51 goals over three seasons and endeared himself to Fire fans for his work ethic. CJ Sapong had perhaps his best MLS season, scoring 13 times despite coming to the Fire from Philadelphia on Feb. 23. He also filled in ably on the wing.
However, if the Fire are going to sign a glitzy Designated Player, up front would also be a place to do it.