The Chicago Fire find themselves in a strange place with the Major League Soccer secondary transfer window closing at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
They entered Wednesday within striking distance of last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and need center-back depth with a hamstring injury to Carlos Teran. But finding the right deal could be tricky, sporting director Georg Heitz said.
“All clubs until the last minute of a transfer window are looking for opportunities,” Heitz said. “It’s not an easy market because if you want to make trades right now, a lot of teams, or all teams, are still in the running for a playoff spot.”
Here’s what Heitz and coach Ezra Hendrickson had to say Wednesday.
The Fire announced Tuesday that goalkeeper $10 million transfer to Chelsea, a move that includes a loan back to Chicago to finish out the season. The deal includes a potential $5 million more in add-ons.
But when asked if the Fire could have gotten more for the Addison native if they had waited until the offseason or next summer, Heitz pointed out that the goalkeeper’s contract only runs through 2023.
“A player’s transfer fee on the international market also depends on the length of their contract,” Heitz said, “and Gaga had 18 months left on her contract with us. So the closer you get to the completion of this contract, the less money you’ll get at the end.”
Heitz added that he didn’t want to leave the 18-year-old “in limbo for months,” especially with a huge interest in Slonina since at least January.
Heitz also left open the possibility that Slonina could return to the Fire on loan for the 2023 season, but that would be determined by Chelsea. The Fire have veteran Spencer Richey and Chris Brady, another promising 18-year-old, as their other goalies.
It doesn’t take much insight to recognize that becoming Soldier Field’s primary tenant would be attractive to the Fire if the Bears choose to move to the northwest suburb.
But Heitz said it’s not his place to weigh in on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Stadium Proposals — even though the potential changes could greatly affect the playing surface and possibly include a dome.
“I think this is not a question for me because I really focus on the sporting side of this club,” Heitz said. “Of course, these plans sounded great to me. But I’m really not the one who’s competent to tell you things about what’s doable and what’s not.”
Still, playing second fiddle for the Bears has a number of drawbacks, including less than ideal pitching once the NFL season begins and having to change the date and location of some home games.
And like last season, when Fire had to pay Bridgeview a base fee of $20,000 Excluding the expense of a one-game return to SeatGeek Stadium, the team will play two games there this year, including the Oct. 9 season finale, which could have playoff implications.
Hendrickson said last week that being forced to play somewhere else is “definitely” an inconvenience, but stressed that the Fire can’t worry too much about it.
“Any time there’s a change like that, it can throw you off,” Hendrickson said on July 27. “But right now we can’t worry about those things. … The focus will always be on getting three points, and that’s something we can’t lose sight of, regardless of where the game is played.”
Durán in a recent Instagram story responded in the affirmative when asked if he wanted to leave the Fire. Instagram stories disappear after 24 hours, so naturally screenshots were taken and circulated.
That the much-touted prospect hopes to use the Fire as a springboard to Europe comes as no surprise. But taking it to social media probably wasn’t the most professional move.
The 18-year-old striker, who has scored three goals this season, apologized Tuesday on Twitter.
Heitz said Wednesday that the Fire “didn’t like it” because “this is a matter of respect.” But Heitz also acknowledged that Duran is still a teenager.
“We must not forget that we have a young (player) who is almost a child,” Heitz said. “It’s absolutely fine to have dreams, and you’re also allowed to make mistakes at this age. But I made it very clear what we think of this, and I think he got it.”
Duran has become the Fire’s preferred option as a striker despite the club acquiring Przybyłko and giving an extension to the Polish striker.
Przybyłko has struggled, scoring just three goals in 14 starts, and has dealt with back problems.
“Sometimes forwards find themselves down, on a losing streak, and I think that’s basically what’s happened,” Hendrickson said Wednesday. “He was coming in, learning a new system, and it just hadn’t clicked for him. When we thought he was going to get going and get into good form, he had a back injury, a freak accident that happened in training and that put him out for several weeks.”