Just when an already-tight playoff race got even tighter, the Fire said goodbye to its leading scorer, who hopped a flight Thursday night for the Netherlands.
As former head coach Carlos de los Cobos used to say, this is the soccer.
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The Fire announced Thursday morning it had transferred Marco Pappa to Dutch side SC Heerenveen, effective immediately, instead of letting Pappa leave after the season. Pappa had signed a precontract with Heerenveen, which has just 1 goal in its first three matches of the Eredivisie season, and that came on a PK. Heerenveen upped the ante for Pappa, and the Fire finally heard a number it liked.
Terms of the transfer were not announced -- this is MLS, where such information is classified -- but this way the Fire doesn't let Pappa get away for nothing, there's allocation money involved from MLS, and there are salary cap implications for next year too.
Pappa joined the Fire in July 2008 and became a fixture at left wing, his 26 goals making him fourth on the club's all-time scoring list. He has 6 goals this year.
"I grew up a lot," the 24-year-old Guatemalan said. "In my personal life, when I moved here it was a different country, a different language. I mean everything was different."
The change in plans came as a bit of a surprise to Pappa.
"I don't know how it happened, but just I can say the last 24 hours have been crazy, but for me and my family, we are really, really happy," said Pappa, who dropped by the Toyota Park practice field during training to say goodbye to teammates and Fire staffers and clean out his locker. "I have a lot of feelings right now, you know, because I leave in the middle of the season after four years playing for the Fire. But this is soccer life. This is soccer life for sure. We need to be professionals, and we're looking forward. We're looking forward and we're wishing the best for the team."
It's a great opportunity, joining a club with a strong reputation in a strong league.
"Europe is one of the goals of my life," Pappa said, "so I hope I can do good there."
The timing isn't great for the Fire. It sits tied for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and the top five teams make the playoffs. Red-hot Montreal and Columbus are just 2 points back in sixth place.
Wherever he is, MLS commissioner Don Garber is smiling at what the final two months of the regular season should bring. Fire coach Frank Klopas probably went back to his office after training Thursday and took some antacid, then went back to planning for Sunday's home match against third-place Houston (6 p.m., NBC Nonstop, Galavision).
The Fire, down to 27 on its roster, will try to find someone to replace Pappa before the Sept. 15 roster freeze deadline, Klopas said, possibly by trade from within MLS.
Fire president of soccer operations Javier Leon added the club has a strong enough roster that any move would be made from strength, not desperation.
Pappa's move seems to create a path for Patrick Nyarko to get back into the lineup, if he's healthy.
"Yeah, yeah, Patrick will be fine," Klopas said of his banged-up winger.
One player rumored coming to Chicago is former Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra, who left the club after the 2003 season for Europe but could be available now that the Rangers have been relegated to the Scottish Third Division.
That seems unlikely, however. The Fire is loaded on the back line, with Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry forming a strong partnership in the middle and Cory Gibbs hoping to return from knee surgery.
Plus, Bocanegra is on the downside of his career at age 33, and the Fire probably would have to make a trade to move up in the MLS allocation order to get Bocanegra's rights, much as it traded Chad Barrett, a draft pick and allocation money to Toronto FC to get Brian McBride in 2008. Toronto again is No. 1 in the allocation order.
Defense already is the strength of the team. Would the Fire really want to give up someone like Jalil Anibaba or Dan Gargan to get Bocanegra?
Getting Bocanegra back would be more of a sentimental move than one that would strengthen the club for what remains of this season.
Fire captain Logan Pause was back scrimmaging with his teammates Thursday, though not with the first team. Pause has been out since breaking two ribs and suffering a collapsed lung Aug. 12 at Philadelphia.
A hush briefly fell over the practice field when forward Sherjill MacDonald collided with Pause during the scrimmage, knocking him to the ground, and MacDonald seeming to realize his mistake by cursing himself.
Pause slowly picked himself up and resumed training.
"In one breath you want to test it a little bit, see how it feels," Pause said. "In the next breath you want to save those tests for when it's meaningful.
"Listen, I'm still managing some soreness and pain. It's doable. I didn't have to leave training or anything like that, but getting hit is not the most comfortable thing for sure.
Pause originally was given a 4-6-week timetable for returning, and he's not ready to move that up just yet.
Jalil Anibaba and Dan Gargan each took turns with the first team at right back Thursday. Anibaba seemed to have beaten out Gargan for the spot, but he's had a tough time in August, creating an opening for Gargan to win the spot back. Both stayed late at practice to work out, alternating in a drill, with teammates helping out.
According to reports, the Fire has dismissed director of player personnel Mike Jeffries.
Leon denied reports that the Fire has transferred backup forward Orr Barouch to an Israeli club ahead.
"We don't have anything at this time," Leon said.
Barouch, an Israeli, could play for Israel when it hosts the U-21 European championship in 2013. He was not at training Thursday.
U.S. Soccer announced Thursday the Olympic gold-medal-winning U.S. women's national team will host Germany on Oct. 20 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview as part of its celebration tour.
Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz