Less than three weeks out from MLS Opening Day, the Chicago Fire’s roster transactions are far from complete. While Heitz, Klopas, and the front office have been incredibly busy on the transfer front this offseason, they still have plenty of business dealing and roster gymnastics to do in the coming weeks before the season kicks off.
The Fire have added numerous players in important areas this winter, including Allan Arigoni, Andrew Gutman, Tobias Salquist, and record-signing Hugo Cuypers. The flurry of additions to the team has left the Senior Roster, which can contain up to 20 players, bloated. (Edit: Kellyn Acosta is also set to join the roster as a free agent)
A handful of low-cost players can also be named to the Supplemental Roster. While the majority of the players here aren’t expected to play a large role, like Javi Casas, Bryan Dowd, and Missael Rodríguez, two important first team backups are listed in this portion of the roster: Jonathan Dean and Chase Gasper. Their placement on the Supplemental Roster opens up slots on the senior roster.
However, the Senior Roster is currently over-capacity, and this is a problem that the Fire must address by the roster compliance date, which is one day before the season starts. There are 22 players on the Senior Roster, without accounting for any additional signings that the club intends to make before the season starts. Chris Brady, who was on the Supplemental Roster last season, moves to the Senior Roster for 2024, and Brian Gutiérrez, who was previously on a Homegrown contract, moves to a U-22 Initiative slot on the Senior Roster.
How does Kellyn Acosta fit into this?
As has been heavily reported throughout the whole free agency process, the Fire are also tirelessly working to bring in longtime U.S. international Kellyn Acosta to strengthen the midfield. Acosta would be a max-TAM player, meaning his salary would be the highest possible number without being a DP. (Edit: Acosta is signing with the team as a max-TAM player)
Acosta’s addition to the team will also likely necessitate the departure of Kacper Przybyłko, who is now the fourth-string center forward but it still on a TAM-level salary of over a $1.2 million. Since interest in a nearly 31-year-old striker who struggles to score is extremely low, finding another club to take him may be difficult, and the most likely methods to get him off the roster would be by mutual termination or by using the club’s one-time buyout.
Who else has to leave?
Even then, two more players would need to be removed from the roster to be compliant. Jairo Torres, by most metrics one of the most disappointing DP signings in MLS history, has been on the transfer list all winter, but there has been very little interest in his signature and attempts to offload him to Liga MX ultimately fell through on deadline day. Right back Arnaud Souquet has also been tipped to leave the club, but with the French transfer deadline now passed, a return to his homeland is off the cards.
In the case of Torres, it is now almost certain that he will not be with the club this season. Klopas told SoccerMasterUS.com that the 23-year-old is “not part of the team now” and with the Argentine, Swiss, and Turkish transfer windows still open, the front office will not cease in their efforts to find him a new home.
As for Souquet, the defender is not traveling with the team to preseason, with the official reason cited by the club being that he is out of the country obtaining a green card. Such news is not necessarily evidence that he will be staying with the Fire for 2024 as holding a green card would rescind the need for an international slot, thus making him much more appealing for a trade within the league. The club are also expected to have just two, not three, right backs on their Senior Roster come the start of the season.
A transfer to sister club Lugano in the Swiss Super League for either of these players remains on the table until the Swiss transfer deadline passes on February 15th, but such a transaction would require the club to burn its one-time annual buyout. There are no restrictions on how many players can be sold, traded, or mutually terminated.
Midfielder Gastón Giménez is also someone who could potentially leave the club, particularly when the free agency deal to bring in Acosta is finalized. A return to his native Argentina could be on the cards as the Argentine window remains open until February 18th; Giménez has been linked with Boca Juniors for years, and rumors gained fresh momentum when it was reported that he was offered to Xeneize last week. According to the Argentine media, Giménez would be open to a return to his homeland and to Boca.
Will there be more signings?
The Fire are in a position now where any signings they can make are contingent upon shedding dead wood from their roster. Following the arrival of Cuypers, there are 22 players on the Senior Roster, and if further signings are to be made in the spring or summer, more players must be sold. Midfielder Fede Navarro could move on in the future and open up a U-22 slot, while defender Carlos Terán has expressed his desire to make the jump to Europe, so any bolstering of the roster in the summer could be reliant on those players freeing Senior Roster positions.
With the roster compliance deadline fast approaching on February 23rd, time is running out to prepare the team for the new year. With the return to red, a record signing, and possibly more to come, everyone around the team is optimistic that 2024 will be an exciting season, but there is still work that needs to be done to make sure that happens.