Nelson Rodriguez

Rodríguez: Fire still looking to add pieces this offseason

The Chicago Fire aren’t done making additions this offseason.

Fire president and GM Nelson Rodriguez told MLSsoccer.com that the club, who acquired Serbian midfielder Aleksandar Katai on loan from Spanish club Alaves on Tuesday, are still looking for a No. 10 to help fill out an attack left somewhat thin by the draft day trade of winger David Accam to Philadelphia and the torn ACL that Michael de Leeuw suffered last fall.

“We would still like to find a more classic 10, a more classic attacking midfielder who can find pockets in between the lines, who can play and break lines with good final balls and who can also help dictate rhythm,” Rodriguez said over the phone Tuesday night. “[We’d like someone who] knows when to slow the game down and when it’s available to accelerate it, accelerate it. That is still a skill set that we seek.”

The Fire were reportedly after just that type of player earlier this offseason, with numerous reports linking the club to Colombian international Juan Quintero. The president of Independiente Medellin, where Quintero played on loan last year, even went as far to say that the 25-year-old was preparing to move to the US. An MLS move fell through, however, with Argentina's River Plate swooping in to acquire Quintero on loan in late January.

“We don’t discuss players who are under contract to another team,” Rodriguez said when asked about Quintero, who Chicago were linked to as far back as last summer. “We have made pursuit of a few different players this offseason, made offers for a few different players this offseason. In the end, what I feel good about is the process by which we have evaluated players and I feel good that we’ve remained disciplined in our approach and have not reacted to anything other than what our valuations are.”

That process led them to Katai on Tuesday. The 26-year-old, who a club spokesperson said Wednesday is on loan until July 31 (at which point Chicago will have an option to buy), primarily lines up as a right winger, but can play on the left and in the middle, as well. Rodriguez said he’ll add some diversity to how the Fire can attack in 2018, something both he and head coach Veljko Paunovic cited at the draft as part of their motivation for trading Accam.

“We think he is different than the attacking players we have currently,” Rodriguez said. “He has a little bit of a different skill-set, he has an ability to beat defenders off the dribble, he has a very good shot from distance, he serves a good ball right footed or left footed, he’s a good set piece taker and we also think he has some versatility in that we think he could play three of our front four spots. I wouldn’t say he’s a classic No. 10, but I would say he could playmake a bit. And so we like his technical ability, we like his mentality, his desire to get at goal and we look forward to trying to integrate him with our other pieces.”

The Fire do have some money to play with after shedding Accam’s substantial salary and landing a total of $1.2 million in Targeted and General Allocation Money from the Union for the Ghanaian. Rodriguez said they’ll look to use that on another goalkeeper, another center back and another central midfielder in addition to a potential new No. 10.

He also mentioned that it’s possible Juninho could return to Toyota Park in 2018. The former LA Galaxy midfielder was acquired on a season-long loan from Tijuana last winter, but fell behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty on the depth chart and only started 17 regular season matches. The Fire didn’t exercise their option to buy him from Xolos after the season, but Rodriguez said he’s remained in touch with his representatives throughout the offseason.

It remains to be seen just who they’ll target, but Katai won’t be the last addition Chicago will try to make this winter.

“At the draft, I had mentioned that we were still looking to add two or three parts – [Katai] is one,” Rodriguez said. “There’s still at least two other pieces that we’re trying to secure and acquire and then the budget will determine how much more beyond that we’ll be able to add.”

Sam Stejskal is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.


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