A versatile midfielder who’s long been a target of Nelson Rodríguez and Veljko Paunovic has arrived in the Windy City.
Khaly Thiam, a 22-year-old native of Senegal, was officially announced as the newest member of the Men In Red Wednesday morning, one day after meeting his new teammates and getting his first look at the park he now calls home. Thiam was acquired on loan after the Fire obtained his Discovery Priority from Columbus Crew SC in exchange for a conditional second round SuperDraft pick.
With the team off from training Wednesday, Thiam is expected to participate in his first session Thursday at Toyota Park.
"I joined Chicago Fire because of their ambitions, they have very serious goals and important goals," Thiam said. "I was seeing on the TV that there are good fans, they are behind the team ... I'm here to help the team to get in the playoffs."
Thiam, who will wear No. 19 for the Fire, spent the last four seasons in the Hungarian first division, including the last two for MTK Budapest. Thiam made the last of his 36 appearances for the club on Saturday, helping MTK to a fourth-place finish in the table, and wasted no time joining up with his new side.
“I believe the addition of Thiam is very important to increase our competitiveness with all his qualities,” Paunovic said earlier this week. “He is very good on the ball, very good also in aerial duels, and his presence on the field is very important. With him we will increase our competitiveness in the team and of course in the league.”
Thiam is the second player of late to join the Fire after a stint in the Hungarian leagues, after Arturo Alvarez signed for the Men In Red following three seasons with Videoton FC. On Tuesday, Alvarez easily recalled his run-ins on the field with Thiam.
“I played against him, he’s a very good player,” Alvarez said. “[MTK] was very good in possession, with Thiam in the triangle in the middle of the field. They were a tough team to play against.”
Paunovic left little doubt that he’s excited to see that skill and toughness deployed in the Chicago Fire midfield.
“He can play in different positions in the midfield, he can play in different systems,” Paunovic said. “So far, we were using 4-2-3-1 as our basic system and he can play beneath (a striker) or together with another midfielder. He’s going to increase that competitiveness and we can also switch to 4-3-3, 3-5-2. Actually that quality of being adaptable and able to play in different systems and roles is something we value a lot and that’s one of the reasons we made the decision [to acquire him].
“He is a pure midfielder. You will see, of course, that he can play different positions and we are going to use him to the full potential that he has as a midfielder."