The Chicago Fire kick off their new season in a little more than a month with plenty of work to be done if they hope to reach the Major League Soccer playoffs for the first time since 2017.
But one of those needs might have been addressed.
The Fire on Saturday acquired Polish striker Kacper Przybyłko from the Philadelphia Union for $1.15 million in allocation money split over two years.
Przybyłko, 28, has been one of the more consistent scorers in the league since making his MLS debut in April 2019. He has scored 35 goals in 83 MLS matches and led last year’s CONCACAF Champions League with five goals.
His addition bolsters a Fire attack that scored just 36 goals in 34 games last season.
“We’re very pleased to add a player of Kacper’s caliber to our roster,” Fire sporting director Georg Heitz said in a statement. “Going into the offseason, we wanted to sign a top attacking player with MLS experience and Kacper has been one of the most effective goal-scorers in this league over the last three seasons.”
But the Fire need more than just a No. 9 if they want to set up Ezra Hendrickson for success in his first season as coach.
Of utmost importance is giving Hendrickson not only a full squad to work with — including filling two empty designated-player slots — but doing so with enough time to implement his tactical vision by the Feb. 26 opener against Inter Miami CF.
That vision, Hendrickson said Wednesday during a conference call, is something he calls “progressive possession.”
“One of the things we’ve been trying to beat into the players and kind of emphasize with them is possession is king,” he said from Orlando, Fla., where the Fire are holding preseason training. “When we don’t have the ball we deny space, and when we have it we try to create space.
“We want to be the team that has more possession of the ball, but not just possession to just keep the ball. Possession looking to penetrate, looking to get forward, what I call progressive possession.”
After going 5-10-8 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 9-18-7 last year, the Fire parted ways with 10 players, including captain Francisco Calvo, joint-leading scorer Luka Stojanović and DPs Robert Berić and Ignacio Aliseda, who was transferred to partner club FC Lugano in the Swiss league.
But adding replacements has been a mostly slow process so far for Heitz and technical director Sebastian Pelzer, who are overseeing their second rebuild since joining the club in December 2019.
Beyond striker, other areas that still need improvement include better wing play and a creative outlet in the midfield.
Said Hendrickson: “We know what it is that we need, what roles, what holes we need to fill on this team, and we’re working tirelessly to fill those positions.”
The Fire hope to add a few more players in the coming weeks, whether those are domestic moves such as Przybyłko or international ones. The Fire have a number of international slots available.
“We want to get the best players that are the best fit,” Hendrickson said, “and whether that be from within the league or from overseas, we are combing the whole globe.”
There are a few new additions to keep an eye on. Forward Jhon Durán, 18, will join the club after being acquired last year from his native Colombia. Center back Rafael Czichos comes with experience in the German Bundesliga and projects to be a regular starter.
Czichos, 31, should also serve as a mentor to a relatively young collection of defenders once he gets visa clearance to join the Fire.
“He really blew me away as far as his leadership qualities,” Hendrickson said of Czichos. “Talking to him, I knew that, OK, this is a guy, yes, I like what I saw tactically, technically. But I think after speaking to him I knew that he was a guy that will be good for us and he’ll be a leader on this team.”