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Chicago Fire add more firepower with signing of Nicolás Gaitán

In this file photo taken on Sept. 12, 2017, Roma's midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini (R) tackles Atletico Madrid's Argentinian midfielder Nicolas Gaitan during the UEFA Champions League Group C football match between AS Roma and Atletico Madrid at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. - Argentina international midfielder Nicolas Gaitan has joined the Chicago Fire on a free transfer from Chinese club Dalian Yifang, the Major League Soccer side confirmed on March 14, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

On paper, the Chicago Fire’s attack looks strong, but that has not translated to many goals or any wins yet. Thursday, the club finalized a deal for Nicolás Gaitán to add more firepower.

Gaitán joins the Fire on a free transfer from Chinese club Dalian Yifang, which brought in Ghanaian striker Emmanuel Boateng at the end of February, putting the club over the league limit of four foreign players. That meant it had to offload a player while the European transfer window was closed. Under those circumstances, Major League Soccer was a natural landing spot for Gaitán. The Fire took advantage.

The Fire dipped into both Targeted Allocation Money and the more recent additional pool of funds in that category — Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money — to get him. In simpler terms, the Fire are investing a significant amount of money on Gaitán, even if he won’t count as a Designated Player. As part of the transaction, the Fire also sent $50,000 in General Allocation Money to Seattle for Gaitán’s discovery rights.

He is only under contract through the rest of 2019 with a club option for 2020.

Gaitán won’t be available for Saturday’s game against the Seattle Sounders. He is expected to join the Fire next week, which would set up the March 30 match against the New York Red Bulls as his potential debut.

“We have wanted to add another attacking piece and believe Nico’s dynamism and playmaking ability could be a perfect fit,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodrίguez said in a club statement.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, center, celebrates his goal against Venezuela with Nicolas Gaita, left, and Gonzalo Higuain during the second half of a Copa America Centenario quarterfinal match June 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The 31-year-old has some high-profile clubs on his resume before he went to China just over a year ago. He played for Boca Juniors, Benfica and Atletico Madrid. He also has 19 caps for the Argentina national team.

The most recent national team appearance was in 2016. He played for Argentina at the Copa America Centenario in the U.S. that year. He even started at Chicago’s Soldier Field in a 5-0 win against Panama.

How he fits into the Fire lineup isn’t yet clear.

The Fire still have designated players Nemanja Nikolić and Aleksandar Katai featuring in the attack. The addition of Przemysław Frankowski has given the Fire another talented winger to play opposite Katai. Striker C.J. Sapong arrived at the end of the preseason and has both of the Fire’s goals so far. Djordje Mihailovic has featured centrally in the attack and has shown glimpses of his talent in each of the first two games.

Having too many talented attacking players isn’t really a problem. However, it does give coach Veljko Paunović some interesting decisions to make.

The Fire’s weakness so far has been the full-back positions, and this doesn’t address that. However, Bastian Schweinsteiger could move into a three-man back line with Mihailovic dropping deeper into midfield alongside Dax McCarty. That lineup may not be very solid defensively, but is an option that gets more of the Fire’s best players on the field together at the same time.

The Fire have scored just one goal in each of the first two games. In the opener, the Fire only scored when Sapong stole an errant back pass in front of the LA Galaxy goal. Then, it took a last-second header from Sapong to get the Fire on the board against Orlando.

“Nicolás is a player that can destabilize any defense in this league,” Paunović said in the statement. “He has an enormous amount of talent and is still in his prime. We’re eager to get the most out of his attacking creativity.”

 

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