By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 9, 2022) US Soccer Players – The Chicago Fire is starting over again. Inter Miami is doing the same, but for the first time. Beyond that difference, the two clubs enter 2022 very much in the same rickety boat. A boat they’re trying to mend while at sea.
Transforming a soccer team while moving through the rhythms of seasons and off-seasons is a little like rebuilding a ship as it moves through the water. In metaphysics, a thought experiment called “The Ship of Theseus” attempts to address the question of whether a boat that is wholly rebuilt as it travels, piece by piece over time, is the same ship when it arrives at its destination as it was when it started its journey.
Left out of that deep and mind-bending puzzle is the question of whether those involved in replacing the parts want the ship to maintain its identity. If identity is nothing more than a name, then at the least, the Fire and Inter Miami will keep that. We’ll ignore the fact that Chicago just went through another visual rebrand following a similar effort to update its image in 2020. Even the great philosophers would have trouble with folding that into the problem.
It’s better to leave some vestiges of old identities behind for both clubs considering their disappointing 2021 seasons. Inter Miami finished 11th, seven points ahead of 12th-place Chicago. Both clubs carry part of their 2021 teams into the new season, but the quest is on to remake their rosters and take a step into this year’s group of playoff contenders.
Consider what the two clubs have going for them while pondering their current status. Chicago and South Florida are two of the country’s biggest and most glamorous markets. The Fire plays in the country’s third-largest city, with its deep sporting culture and diverse population. Meanwhile, Inter plays in Fort Lauderdale for now, but they market to a region that’s the multicultural, tropical gateway points south. If MLS could have its way, both the Fire and Inter Miami would be strong teams with the power to leverage their markets for the greater good of the league.
Instead, a new season arrives with both clubs facing uncertain prospects. Chicago enters the year with a new head coach. In Fort Lauderdale, sporting director Chris Henderson is attempting to clean up a mess left behind by a previous regime while Phil Neville works to prove he was the right coach for head coach.
The roster turnover for both clubs is still in progress. That makes it difficult to know exactly what they’ll be working with when the season begins. Still, a snapshot just weeks ahead of the season gives us a sense of how difficult morphing into a winner will be.
Inter Miami jettisoned a whopping 18 players from its 2021 roster. That number included role players as well as bigger names. Gone are Rodolfo Pizarro, the forward whose transfer saga grabbed headlines going into 2020, Julian Carranza, who scored just three goals in two years, and Nicolas Figal, a somewhat regular fixture at center back during both Inter Miami seasons. Henderson also leveraged talented Scottish winger Lewis Morgan for $1.2m in GAM via a trade with the New York Red Bulls. Morgan performed admirably with Inter despite the turmoil, outshining even the bigger, more expensive names the club put on the field.
To fill out the roster and remake the squad, Henderson and the Inter Miami brass have leaned heavily into the loan system. The club’s three biggest departures: Pizarro, Figal, and defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez all left via loan. Coming into the team through the same mechanism are 21-year-old forward Leonardo Campana, an Ecuadorian who holds American citizenship joining from Premier League club Wolverhampton.
Inter also added a winger to help replace Morgan. 21-year-old Emerson Rodriguez arrives from Millionarios in his native country. Inter Miami used the league’s U22 initiative to purchase Rodriguez, which means his budget charge is small, and the reported $2.7m transfer fee doesn’t hit the cap. Rodriguez’s signing embodies the new look of Inter Miami, a squad that’s noticeably younger.
Chicago’s work in progress has a different flavor. Much of what the Fire did this offseason is about putting a competitive team on the field in the short term. The club’s move to Soldier Field has yet to deliver the local increase in interest it hoped for, in part because the team on the field hasn’t been good enough.
The Fire opened up a Designated Player slot by selling Young DP Ignacio Aliseda to Lugano of Switzerland and look set to fill that slot with Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri. Chicago will pay a reported $7.5 million for the former Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and Liverpool attacker, making a clear statement of ambition in the process.
Chicago’s turnover wasn’t as comprehensive as Miami’s, but the team did part ways with ten players. That list includes Robert Beric, the club’s leading scorer from the last two seasons, Francisco Calvo, a fixture at center back since arriving from Minnesota three years ago, and Luca Stojanovic, a midfielder who made 27 appearances in 2021 and tied with Beric for the team lead in goals in 2021.
Incoming is Kacper Pryzbylko from Philadelphia. The Fire moved over $1 million in allocation money to Philly for the striker in the hope he can help solve their goal-scoring issues. Now that Shaqiri is in transit, the Fire has a one-two punch for the attack. They also added a starter at center back to replace Calvo. Rafael Czichos is a first-choice player from day one following a move from Cologne. Czichos played over 100 games for the German club, bringing a wealth of high-level experience to the Fire back line.
The trick of rebuilding the boat while it’s under sail is what makes putting together a winning team so difficult. Unlike The Ship of Theseus, where the presumption is that all of the new pieces are the right ones, there’s no guarantee that making major changes to a struggling soccer club will keep the ship from running aground.
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- DC United changes its plans
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Photo by Robin Alam – ISIPhotos.com