Saturday July 17, 2010 will not be remembered by Fire fans as the day the Fire lost to the New England Revolution 1-0 at home in a Group B SuperLiga match-up but as the day help arrived to possibly save the 2010 Fire season. With the team clearly in a tailspin the Fire front office, true to their word to be active in the designated player market after the World Cup, added a former Mexican National team forward Nery Castillo to their line-up.
The Fire had promoted a player announcement to their fans during the intermission between the two SuperLiga games last night in Bridgeview. With their loyal fans having watched the Fire drop their fourth match in a row the crowd at least was put at ease now knowing that help in the form of a forward who can score was soon to arrive in the Windy City.
The 26 year old speedster with a touch for the ball when near the net comes to Chicago by way of a loan deal with Ukraine side Shakhtar Donetsk. The Fire will have an option to make the deal permanent however. Castillo is best known worldwide for his play in Greece with Olympiakos. Seven years in Greece saw him make over 100 appearances for that club and included him appearing in two Greek Cup winning sides and gain Champions League experience. In 2007 he was sold to the Ukrainian side where he was on board for a trip to the UEFA Cup while on their roster. He has notably had a brief loan spell with EPL side Manchester City.
To North American fans he is best remembered for his play in the 2007 Gold Cup. He was a spark plug for the Mexican team in that tournament being credited with getting the team to the Cup finals which took place in Chicago that year. The Mexican team lost to the US 2-1 in the final but Castillo made a name for himself with his home country. Most of his career has been in Europe as mentioned above and he does not bring along with him to Chicago a built in fan base from fans of a Mexican League club in Chicago’s large Mexican-American community. However, Chicago with coach Carlos de los Cobos and now Nery Castillo should be as popular with the Mexican –American fan base throughout the MLS as they were with Cuauhtémoc Blanco on the squad.
Speaking of Blanco, he has apparently decided to stay with a Mexican team for what must be his final days as a player. The rumor all along was that he would join the Fire again after the World Cup but that door now seems shut with his signing by the Mexican second division club Iraputo. While apparently serious negotiations did take place, no deal was done. I certainly do not know the real reason why Castillo became the choice but one must have to think the Fire made a good long term decision. The 11 year age difference is the most apparent feature but maybe Castillo can still have great years ahead of him while Blanco clearly has seen his best. In that event the MLS and the Fire may have made a decision that impacts the entire future of the league.
The reaction at Toyota Park was muted last night when the announcement was made. The early fan reaction judged from the Internet and other social media forums seems great but stating the need is a lot more. Technical Director Frank Klopas indicated that the Fire front office are not done with a player signings and at least the second designated player spot would be filled. The sights of the Klopas seem to be set on a midfielder but the rumored signing from an English team seems to have been ended by lack of interest of the player involved.
The Fire clearly need an anchor defender to aid a defense that has seemed badly disorganized at times. While Andrew Dykstra has generally performed well in the net he has not taken charge of the defense as Jon Busch did while in Chicago. He is in his first year as a starter and that will come but in the meantime a stable defense makes up for a keeper who is learning.
So, the team ownership has kept to their word and brought in a big name. This could not be soon enough as the Fire are 4th in the Eastern Conference and trail seven teams in points from the tough Western Conference of the MLS. Castillo will greatly aid the games of Patrick Nyarko, Marco Pappa, and Brian McBride and open room especially on the flanks for his teammates. If the Fire are going to even make the playoffs this season the next signing may be the most important decision that Fire management makes all season.
To sum it up: A work in progress, stay tuned for more.