Fire hopes to strike gold in Anangono
Like a prospector digging for gold, the Chicago Fire dove into the international transfer market, hoping to strike it rich.
The key word there is "hope."
The Fire announced Tuesday morning it has signed 24-year-old Ecuadorean striker Juan Luis Anangono. Anangono has 1 cap for Ecuador. In 32 matches for Argentinos Juniors in Argentina, he had 5 goals. The Fire hopes he turns out to be a golden nugget like Fredy Montero did for Seattle or Camilo Sanvezzo has for Vancouver, but that will mean improving that strike rate.
"As a forward we have to know how to finish," Anangono said Tuesday through a team translator. "I'm a good striker in that sense. I'm fast, but I'm also good up top with headers and air play."
As for style of play, Fire president of soccer operations Javier Leon compares Anangono more to Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio or Seattle's Eddie Johnson because of his combination of speed and strength.
"At the end of the day, let's hope that he turns out to be one of those guys because that means he'll be a success in our league," Leon said.
Anangono will be a designated player, not because he will be so well compensated but because of the transfer fee it will cost the Fire to bring him to Chicago. He comes on a two-year contract with a club option for a third season.
Anangono did not train with his teammates Tuesday, working instead on fitness. He hasn't played since the season in Argentina ended about 25 days ago and figures he's at about 80 percent fitness.
He probably will miss Saturday's match at Houston while waiting on his visa.
"Overall I just have to be patient, I have to be calm about these different opportunities," Anangono said. "I have to take it day by day. It's a good opportunity for myself and the club, and I have to learn how to adapt as well."
In baseball terms this looks like a single, solid but not spectacular, clearly not a home run. Leon said he and vice president of soccer operations Guillermo Petrei purposely chose a "complementary" player like Anangono because of the team's improved play lately, especially the combination of forwards Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe.
"He becomes another piece of the puzzle," Leon said.
But if the seventh-place Fire (7-9-3, 24 points) truly wanted to make a run at MLS Cup, it needed something more. The Fire needed to think Daniel Burnham big. Just a couple of weeks ago, ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas said as much.
"When I think of the Chicago Fire I think of success," Lalas said. "I think of big. It's a big market; it's a big team. It's got a big history and a big culture. So, yeah, they need to go big.
"If the Chicago Fire are now a small-market team then that's too bad, because that's a regression as far as I'm concerned."
Big is a player like Los Angeles' Robbie Keane. Big is a player like New York's Thierry Henry. Anangono is not big, not even close. Maybe someday, is the Fire's hope. But considering the Fire's recent results, Anangono has a better chance of being the next Sherjill MacDonald than the next Keane.
The Fire's history in international signings is full of fool's gold: Since 2010 there's Diego Chaves, Guillermo Franco, Collins John, Krzysztof Krol, MacDonald, Marko Maric, Julio Martinez, Josip Mikulic, Cristian Nazarit, Gaston Puerari, Federico Puppo, Rafael Robayo and Deris Umanzor. Then there's former designated player Nery Castillo, who taught the Fire if you're going to miss, miss small.
Only Alex, Sebastian Grazzini, the recently retired Arne Friedrich and Pavel Pardo can be considered successes, and of those four only Alex is still with the team, as an occasional starter. Since 2010 the Fire has made the playoffs just once and was eliminated in the first round.
Anangono will be given every chance to take Rolfe's starting spot alongside Magee, with Rolfe either coming off the bench as a second-half substitute or moving to midfield.
"With anything everybody's got to earn that right to be on the field," coach Frank Klopas said. "He's a good player. That's why we brought him here. But (a starting role), he's got to earn that on the field for sure."
The Fire front office just hopes Anangono produces when he's given the chance.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz