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Chicago Fire begin preseason in ‘deep negotiations’ with 2 foreign centerbacks

Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, forward Nemanja Nikolić and midfielder Dax McCarty unveil the primary and secondary kit s for the Club’s new jersey partnership with Motorola. (Paul-Michael Ochoa, Chicago Fire)

CHICAGO — Just as the weather in Chicago is turning into a consistent mix of snow and ice, the Chicago Fire are departing for preseason in Spain.

The Fire begin a two-week stint in Madrid with an international flight Wednesday. A second trip to Charleston, S.C., follows.

Despite two additions Tuesday, the roster still needs plenty of work. The attack and midfield appear to be mostly settled, but the defense is full of question marks. Goalkeeper is due for an upgrade as well. General manager Nelson Rodriguez addressed those needs at a jersey unveiling party at the team’s pop-up shop in the Wrigley Building.

“We’re in, I would say, advanced, deep negotiations with two foreign centerbacks,” Rodriguez said during the Tuesday event. “Both require transfers, so there’s the added complexity of trying to reach agreement with the club and the player. Both are good, but both are far from finished and we have contingencies against those two as well.”

Rodriguez said the team is still talking with Johan Kappelhof, who has been a regular starter at centerback for the past three years, but is out of contract.

“If you look at our roster right now, we don’t have enough defenders signed and on the roster, so that’s where we are looking to improve,” coach Veljko Paunović said.

Additionally, Rodriguez said they “need more competition in goal.”

Przemyslaw Frankowski’s addition beefs up the team’s ability to attack from the wing. Rodriguez said the first offer for Frankowski was made last February and the club also visited the Polish winger last summer with the intention of signing him.

If the Fire can’t secure enough defensive quality for the start of the season, it’s reasonable to think Bastian Schweinsteiger could play centerback again in 2019. He moved between his more typical central midfield role and the back line in 2018.

While Rodriguez said the team is “at its best when he’s further forward,” Paunović took a more diplomatic approach to Schweinsteiger’s role.

“We will be unpredictable when we try to use his multi-talents and versatility to play in different positions,” Paunovic said. “That is something we will decide game by game.”

Regardless, the Fire only have 21 players currently under contract. Midfielder Dax McCarty doesn’t think getting players in the middle of the preseason creates a problem.

“I don’t think that’s a super important thing to worry about at this point,” McCarty said. “I think every team makes sure that they have their core in place and you want to make sure that you get reps with your core group of players and then your depth players. Then you want to build a roster out appropriately.”

No matter how many players Paunović has at the start of camp, he has to get the team to jell before the season opener March 2 at the LA Galaxy.

“It’s always a challenge,” Paunović said. “It’s always better when you can work with the group from the first day, but it’s not always possible.

“Some players more experienced that are coming during the preseason, it’s not difficult for us to integrate them sooner. It’s more for the players who don’t have experience in changing environments and maybe starting anew.”

The Fire’s jersey reveal included new home and away jerseys, along with a new sponsor, Motorola. The home jersey only has minor alterations, but the away jersey is essentially the inverse in white with a red band across the middle.

Minority owner Joe Mansueto was there with his family. Majority owner Andrew Hauptman was not.

After missing the playoffs by 14 points in 2018, the club is in need of a bounce back.

“I think no matter how poorly or well you did last year it’s a clean slate,” McCarty said. “I think everyone has a renewed energy, a renewed sense of urgency going into the new year. It’s exciting.”

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