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posted: 6/12/2012 9:02 PM

Fire seeks scoring spark

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  • The Chicago Fire must decide if it will keep midfielder Sebastian Grazzini , whose contract expires at midseason.

    The Chicago Fire must decide if it will keep midfielder Sebastian Grazzini , whose contract expires at midseason.
    Associated Press


For a team mired in mediocrity and in need of a jolt of energy, the Chicago Fire has to see the upcoming summer transfer window as an opportunity that can't be wasted.

Major League Soccer allows its teams to each sign up to three high-priced Designated Players -- also known as the David Beckham rule -- and the Fire could use a player or two with Beckham's ability when the transfer window opens in two weeks.

The defense will get a boost when veteran Arne Friedrich returns from a hamstring strain, possibly Sunday (4 p.m., NBC Sports Network) against the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park.

It's the attack that most needs new blood, and most of the rumors surrounding the Fire (5-5-3, 18 points) have centered around attacking players. The Fire has scored 15 goals in 13 games; not the worst in the league, but nothing to brag about either.

The Fire's top scorers, Dominic Oduro and Marco Pappa, have combined for 7 goals this season, compared to the 20 New York's Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper have already. If the Fire wants a shot at MLS Cup, it needs someone who can score like Henry and Cooper.

For a team averaging 13,730 fans a game (the league average is 18,548), a big-name personality could help off the field as well.

Oduro, who scored 12 goals last year, is amazingly fast but is limited by a poor first touch. Newly reacquired forward Chris Rolfe is a finisher but needs to stay healthy and prove himself again. Patrick Nyarko does everything well but score.

Finding a proven scorer isn't the only issue on the Fire's to-do list. The club also must decide if it wants to keep attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini.

Acquired at midseason last year, Grazzini, 31, dealt with injuries and fitness problems, but was also a key factor in the team's 7-2-1 finish to 2011. Teams have played him more physically this year, and it seems to have slowed the Argentine. He has 2 goals and 3 assists in 2012.

Grazzini's contract expires at midseason, though coach Frank Klopas said last month the club has an option to extend Grazzini's contract. Klopas was noncommittal about Grazzini then.

A Fire spokesman said Klopas missed training Tuesday for a scouting trip, declining to say where or who Klopas was scouting.

"Economically, financially, if a good contract is offered, I'm willing to stay, but as everyone has seen they're taking a little longer to decide," Grazzini said after training Tuesday through a team translator, adding the uncertainty has made playing this season difficult.

"I've done things good here, so thankfully there's offers from Argentina, but I like it here so I prefer to stay here."

If the Fire does bring in an international player, it will have to let one go. The club has eight international players, the most allowed by MLS. Grazzini's departure would open an international slot, and off-season signing Rafael Robayo has been dissatisfied with his lack of playing time. He too might leave.

Meanwhile, the Fire welcomed back to training Brazilian midfielder Alex. Signed on a free transfer from Swiss second-division club FC Wohlen, Alex scored 7 goals in 48 appearances over two seasons at Wohlen. Though he can train now, he's not eligible to play until the transfer window opens June 27.

Alex said Tuesday through the team translator that he turned down offers in Dubai and Switzerland to play for the Fire, with which he trained this spring during the Fire's preseason. He could assume Grazzini's role if Grazzini departs.

If the Fire stops with Alex, however, it's probably setting its sights too low.

Follow Orrin Schwarz on twitter @orrinsoccer

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