Sporting Director Georg Heitz made it clear a few weeks ago that “continuity” is a priority heading into the 2021 season and the January transfer window.
After all, the Chicago Fire FC that you saw in 2020 was akin to an expansion team if you look at the amount of new signings (18).
He did, however, add that there would be a few new signings and Levski Sofia’s (Bulgaria) Stanislav Ivanov is now the Fire’s third acquisition this off-season along with striker Chinonso Offor and defender Jhon Espinoza.
I don’t like to hype up new signings too much -- especially when they are coming over from a different country -- because their performance is dependent on so much more than just their footballing ability. It’s a new language, new culture, new teammates, etc.
Based strictly on what I’ve seen and read from Ivanov, I think Fire fans can get pumped about their new attacking threat.
At just 21 years old, he falls under the youth umbrella that Heitz has continued to emphasize. Ivanov was awarded with what is essentially “Most Improved Player” in the 19/20 season after a nine goal, five assist season in Bulgaria’s first division last year. He has garnered interest from some big clubs in Europe, including Turkish giants Galatasaray. He has Europa League experience, having started and played in all four matches for Levski Sofia when they participated in last year’s competition. His value has sky rocketed over the past 12 months, effectively quadrupling after his 19/20 season (per Transfermarkt). He has also been called into Bulgaria’s Senior National team, but has yet to earn his first cap. However, he's been an integral part of their youth sides, scoring four goals for their U-21 team in the U-21 Euros.
Those are the cold-hard facts. Now here is my opinion, which, of course, you can take with a few grains of salt.
This dude is a PLAYER. He could be one of those missing pieces to the puzzle up front in the Fire’s search for consistency and ruthlessness that was missing at times in 2020.
The first thing that sticks out is his pace and work rate. He will fit perfectly into the press that coach Raphael Wicky implemented. He's an out-and-out attacker whose most natural position looks to be as a winger. His movement off the ball is really encouraging, and is going to work well off of Robert Berić, Djordje Mihailović, Ignacio Aliseda, etc.
Something worth noting as well is his passing ability. He only had five assists last season, but it easily could have been double digits. With both feet, the Bulgarian can find his comrades with a wide range of passes. He plays to the correct foot, into space, and rarely slows down the attack. His decision-making is also beyond his years. He notices moments to either beat his initial defender, wait for the cavalry to arrive, or simply get off the ball and move. With this in mind, I would not be shocked if he found himself in a No. 10 position.
Like his distribution, his finishing is ambidextrous. He looks to be comfortable in front of goal at such a young age. His first touch in and around the penalty area is so clean, and he can score goals in a multitude of ways.
Another trait that pops out is that he plays the beautiful game with an immense amount of passion. He expresses himself when he is on the ball. He is fearless in the attacking third and constantly puts his body on the line to ensure the ball crosses the line. There is no doubt he loves the game of football and it shows in his play.
If I was going to make a player comparison (hold onto your masks folks) it would probably be Sporting Kansas City’s Johnny Russell.
It might seem bold or naïve considering he’s only 21 and has never played a minute in MLS, but that’s the kind of talent I see from him in his play. He has a good center of gravity and is adventurous and clever in the attacking third. He’s capable of shredding backlines on a counter-attack. He has a zest for the game like Russell, and it appears he is willing to do the little things to help his team win. The other big reason for the comparison is his passing ability. I don’t think Russell gets enough credit for his ability to set up his teammates, and I think you’ll be seeing the letter 'A' next to Ivanov’s name quite a bit on the scoresheet.
Only time will tell what the boisterous, Bulgarian youngster will bring to the Chicago Fire table, but this is a signing to really get excited about.