Fire player shortage linked to salary cap issues
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If the Chicago Fire is short-handed this season, it's not just because the team has been hurt by a rash of injuries.
With just 26 players on its roster, the Fire is four players under the Major League Soccer maximum. Only Sporting Kansas City lists fewer players on its website with 25. Fifteen of the 19 MLS teams have at least 28 players on their roster. Meanwhile, the slumping Fire (1-4-1, 4 points) has had to reach into its academy for younger players to fill out reserve game starting lineups.
"We were looking," Fire president of soccer operations Javier Leon said Tuesday. "The main thing is we just don't want to do something just for the sake of doing it. I think that right now we're more focused on looking for an opportunity that we can add depth to the squad, that we feel that player can actually step on the field."
Part of the problem is the league's salary cap, $2.95 million per team this season.
"I can tell you that every team in MLS always has issues with the salary cap," Leon said, "but we're not in that situation where we have difficulties. There is possibilities to do some things based on the way it's being planned."
Adding insult to injury, or at least to the lack of depth caused by injuries, is the success some familiar faces are having with other MLS teams this season.
Columbus comes to Toyota Park this weekend (7:30 p.m. Saturday, TV TBA) with forward/midfielder Dominic Oduro, traded from the Fire in February for midfielder Dilly Duka and the MLS rights to Robbie Rogers. Oduro's 3 goals for Columbus so far are more than any current Fire player has scored this season. Duka struggled in a couple of starts before joining the walking wounded list with a hamstring injury.
After last season the Fire let right back Dan Gargan go in the MLS re-entry draft, and he wound up with last year's Supporters' Shield winner, San Jose, where he already has played 270 minutes this season.
Center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe, 26, has played 360 minutes for Real Salt Lake this season and is looking more and more like a fixture on a playoff contender's back line. He started seven games for the Fire his rookie year, 2010, but did not play at all in Chicago in 2011 and 2012 before the Fire traded him for a late-round draft pick in June 2012. He finished 2012 by starting 10 games for RSL when it was besieged with injuries.
"With the injuries that we've had, those are players that potentially could have helped us," Leon said. "So the reality is that that's always a thought that you have. But at the same time you look at it from a realistic standpoint. They're in their new clubs. They're both really good guys. We wish both of the them ... the best."
The Fire also could have tried to sign right back Ryan Miller, a 28-year-old Barrington native who had a trial with the Fire in 2009 before going to Sweden. He returned from Europe this winter, signing with Portland, where he has played 141 minutes. Meanwhile, the Fire has been forced to play Michael Videira and Wells Thompson out of position at right back due to injuries.
"He was a good guy, but his number was pretty big," Fire coach Frank Klopas said of Miller's salary this season. "We knew Ryan. He's a guy from here. We had talked to him."
Former Fire center back Bakary Soumare, 27, a former MLS All-Star, has asked to be traded from Philadelphia, and he has maintained a home in Chicago even after he left to play in France in 2009 following a locker room scuffle with former coach Denis Hamlett.
But Soumare comes with a hefty salary that makes it unlikely the Fire will trade for him.
Meanwhile, center back Arne Friedrich, the centerpiece of the Fire's back line, hasn't played a minute this season due to leg injuries and suffered a setback to his hip last week, leading to speculation he might have to retire without playing a minute this season.
"The key thing right now is that we're still very hopeful that Arne is going to be able to come back," Leon said. "He makes a huge difference. He was one of our key assets last year. ... In the meantime we're talking to teams about different possibilities."
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz
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