The Chicago Fire’s first new addition of the offseason will be center forward Tom Barlow, the Athletic’s Tom Bogert reported this afternoon. In exchange for Barlow, the New York Red Bulls will receive $250,000 in General Allocation Money, with up to $150,000 in incentives that could see the fee rise to $400,000. The deal will not be made official until after MLS Cup when the roster freeze is complete, on December 11th.
A native of St. Louis, Barlow has been with the Red Bulls organization since 2018 and was drafted out of the University of Wisconsin. It was in Madison that he played alongside current Fire winger Chris Mueller for all four years. In 2017, he also made several appearances for FC United in Chicago. With the Red Bulls, Barlow has scored 13 goals in 120 regular season matches, though he has tallied three times in the playoffs, including twice this season.
While the Fire currently have two other first-team strikers on the roster in Kacper Przybyłko and Georgios Koutsias, it is unlikely that Georg Heitz is done wheeling in that position. The expectation remains that the club will look to acquire a Designated Player who will start as a number nine, and for that reason, it is likely that Przybyłko will look to be shipped elsewhere. Koutsias, who was the starting forward down the stretch in 2023, is still at the level of a backup at this point in his career and likely would compete with Barlow for rotational minutes assuming a DP is signed this winter.
Barlow is an interesting signing because his stats do not stand out too much. The 28-year-old scored just three times in 2023 during the regular season, even though he appeared in all 34 matches and recorded 20 starts. Standing at 6 foot 2, he does sit amongst the top 10% of forwards in MLS in aerial duels won, but that is about it. Beyond his baseline statistics, there is nothing extreme either, as he is only slightly above average in xG per 90 (.34) and interceptions per 90 (.24).
In spite of all this, Heitz will look to get the best out of Barlow, even as a backup. He has delivered in important moments for the Red Bulls, including in their eventual shootout loss to FC Cincinnati earlier this month, and should be a serviceable backup, assuming the DP situation is sorted. The next few weeks will be crucial as the Fire team for 2024 finally begins to take shape.