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updated: 7/13/2011 6:48 PM

Pressure is on Fire's new addition

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  • Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini will join the Fire on Friday.

      Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini will join the Fire on Friday.
    Photo courtesy of Chicago Fire

  • The Fire announced the signing of Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini on Wednesday.

      The Fire announced the signing of Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini on Wednesday.
    Photo courtesy of Chicago Fire

 
 

The Fire didn't sign Sebastián Grazzini just to be a midfielder.

The foundering Fire signed the 30-year-old Argentine to be the missing piece. At this point in a 2-5-12 season, what the team needs is a savior.

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The Fire announced his signing Wednesday and expects to introduce him at training Friday, when the international transfer window opens.

"We are excited to bring Sebastián to the Fire," technical director and interim coach Frank Klopas said. "Sebastián is a talented player, with good vision, the ability to create in the middle of the park and a strong left foot. Sebastián's addition provides us with additional talent and helps us as we push for a playoff spot in the second half of the season."

He's more than that, really. Grazzini not only has to be a playmaker, he has to be a difference maker, the guy to lead the Fire back from the near-dead and into a MLS playoff berth.

The Fire has only missed the playoffs twice in its history, but the club is on course for No. 3. If Grazzini isn't magic, the Fire would make it an unthinkable two consecutive years without a playoff berth. This after two consecutive seasons in the Eastern Conference championship game.

Grazzini needs to start a near-dormant Fire attack. He's got to put Diego Chaves back on track for a double-digit goal season. He's got to make Cristian Nazarit look like the Colombian Samuel Eto'o he was billed to be. He's got to put Dominic Oduro in can't-miss spots. And not just in Open Cup games, but MLS games too.

Last year the Fire added Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg at midseason. Ljungberg did well, but Castillo flopped. Both came with big Designated Player contracts, then left after the season. Grazzini is not a DP, and the Fire remains without one.

Still, Grazzini has to make a consistent winner of a club that needs just two more draws to set the MLS record for ties in a season. One point a game won't do it anymore. The Fire needs to earn points in 3s.

The Fire sits in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. In the latest version of the MLS playoff system, and considering the West is the stronger conference, only three or four teams from the East are likely to make the 10-team playoffs.

Grazzini's expected to be eligible for selection against Portland on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) at Toyota Park, and it won't be long before Grazzini gets a spot, most likely in place of Daniel Paladini.

But how quickly will the Argentine adjust to life in the United States? How well will he adjust to MLS, one of the most physical leagues in the world?

Grazzini will get no preseason to get to know his teammates and coaches and surroundings.

He will get only the pressure of high expectations.

Open season:

The Fire will host the USL's Richmond Kickers on Aug 30 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. Richmond upset Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday night 2-0, saving the Fire a trip to Kansas City for the next round.

Check your calendar:

The Fire said it will announce another international friendly Thursday. The club hosts Manchester United on July 23 at Soldier Field. The second friendly likely will be in September.

Chaves, Birchall suspended:

MLS suspended Fire forward Diego Chaves for Saturday's match against Portland because of a "reckless challenge" in the 91st minute of last weekend's loss at Los Angeles. Chaves also was fined $250.

The Galaxy's Chris Birchall was suspended two games and fined $500 for "a challenge that showed utter disregard for his opponent's safety" against the Fire. Birchall upended the Fire's Patrick Nyarko, causing both benches to empty. Fire reserve defender Josip Mikulic earned a red card for his role in protesting the challenge and also will miss the Portland match.

oschwarz@dailyherald.com

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