Incoming Chicago Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez remains a week away from officially undertaking his duties with the club which, most notably, include securing a head coach and addressing a lengthy list of player personnel decisions.
The degree to which current technical director and interim head coach Brian Bliss is involved in any or all of those questions remains to be seen. But Bliss on Tuesday offered some insight into what the future of the Fire could look like under his watch, be it from the bench or from his vantage point in the front office.
Echoing his previous assessments that the roster requires tweaks more than an overhaul, Bliss was forthcoming about what he sees as the most pressing needs to address on the technical side.
“I think with the vacancy of Shaun Maloney, we probably need to shore that up with another player in that [Designated Player] category,” he said. “I would think that that would be a need. Then based on general results and statistical analyses that we can all do, we probably need something in the back line to shore that up, or down the spine.”
As for where those additions may come from, Bliss highlighted a pair of areas where he tends to focus his attention, the first being promotion from within the club’s Academy system.
“We’ve got some good kids in the Homegrown status in our system, in the younger age groups and in college,” Bliss said. “Personally, if you’re unsure of a draft pick and you think you have something equal to that in your system, I would always err on taking the kid in your own system because he’s probably been around a while, he knows the way the team trains, and would probably have a better chance of succeeding than a random third or fourth-round draft pick.”
Outside of the U.S. system, Bliss acknowledged that he has a history from his tenure at Sporting KC and Columbus Crew SC of pursuing Latin American players.
“I favor [Hispanic] players, not because I don’t think the other guys aren’t good, it’s just the way I see the game,” Bliss said. “Call it the market value in the Latin market being a bit better than when you go to Central Europe. I think there’s some value to be added with players from Latin America. Would there be more next year if I’m around? Maybe, but they’ve got to be the right fit for the club."
Bliss spoke sparingly about the futures of players already under contract with the Men In Red, but did have complimentary words for a pair of players coming to the end of their first full seasons with the First Team: Homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez and Nigerian striker Kennedy Igboananike.
“Collin’s done well, unfortunately it’s tough for an 18-year-old kid to get on the field,” Bliss said. “Collin’s biggest stumbling block for this first season will be on the mental side. I’ve had two meetings with him already about preparing himself for next year when he won’t be looked upon as a rookie or an 18-year-old. He’s on a good path right now and we’re thinking positively about where his career is going.”
Igboananike has seen diminished minutes since Bliss took over on the bench, but not through any fault of his own.
“He’s guaranteed next year and I think he’s a good player,” Bliss said. “His future is at our club. I see the game a little bit differently in terms of how we line up and the players that play in those roles, but a club can’t exist without strong starters and guys who come off the bench. I’m not saying he’s either one of those, because he's done both, but he’s trained very well, he gets after it, and I’ve got no complaints about the way he approaches the game or training. Unfortunately, Kennedy's been on the outside looking in, not because he's not playing well or training well, but coach's choice, let's call it."
Of course, Bliss reiterated that his conversations with Rodriguez to date have focused more on the club’s pressing administrative necessities and less on his own longterm future. But as those conversations come to pass, Tuesday’s brief media session offered an introductory look at how Bliss could go about improving the Chicago Fire.
“I’m sure when he gets on board full-time,” Bliss said, “there will be further discussion about my situation and what role and capacity I’ll be in.”