Nazarit joins, but Fire have other needs
The Chicago Fire brought in 20-year-old Colombian Cristian Nazarit on Wednesday -- a 6-foot-1 target forward who recently was playing for Colombian Primera A side Independiente Santa Fe.
In the Fire's grand plan, the club clearly hopes that Nazarit or some other striker will provide scoring power to complement Diego Chaves, who leads Chicago with four goals. Chaves has been a workhorse for the Fire, and for much of the season he has been Chicago's only go-to guy on the scoring front.
Chaves also has noticeably lost some steam in the closing minutes of Chicago's recent games, so adding an offensive weapon -- provided the Nazarit plan comes to fruition -- is a welcome addition for the Fire.
But Nazarit's signing also does not address the Fire's most immediate needs, the biggest of which is an established central midfielder. Even through seven games, the Fire have yet to finalize the look of their middle formation.
The Fire's 10 goals in seven games is pretty much on par with the rest of the league's offenses. Heading into this week, before Wednesday's slate of games, there were four other MLS clubs with that exact goals-to-games ratio, including the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls.
The major difference between New York and Chicago is that the Red Bulls (4-1-2) have allowed only two goals this season, while the Fire (1-3-3) have given up a whopping 13.
Plus, what was a modestly short injury list has grown with every week.
Fire midfielders Michael Videira (concussion) and Logan Pause (hamstring) missed last week's game, and Videira currently is listed as out for this Saturday's match against Vancouver. Pause is questionable, and midfielder Marko Maric was placed on the disabled list Wednesday (left deltoid sprain). Chicago defenders Cory Gibbs (questionable, hamstring) and Josip Mikulic (questionable, shoulder) are up in the air for their return, and Steven Kinney (Achilles) has been out all season.
Eight Fire players are listed on the MLS Injury Report this week, tying with the Colorado Rapids for the most players on this dreaded list.
The back line is without question a concern at the moment. Left back Gonzalo Segares and rookie right back Jalil Anibaba have been the only consistent staples on the back line. Center back Yamith Cuesta has turned into a strong addition as he replaces Gibbs. But fellow center back Dasan Robinson has had some struggles, including an own-goal against the Portland Timbers and a near own-goal against Colorado.
In the midfield, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos went with a vastly different group against the Rapids last week that included Daniel Paladini and Corben Bone, each starting in their first game of the season. Gaston Puerari dropped back from his typical forward slot and into the midfield. Dominic Oduro was on the right side of the midfield. Marco Pappa was the only returning midfielder on the left flank, while last year's assists leader, Patrick Nyarko, was questionably left on the bench until the closing minutes.
With the addition of another striker, the X-factor in Wednesday's signing has to be Puerari. Few Fire players cover as much ground and consistency employ the high-level work rate that Puerari does. Anyone who has watched the team should feel that Puerari has some multi-goal performances in his arsenal. But to date, Puerari only has one goal to his name.
So De los Cobos dropped him into the midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation last week. The formation switch stemmed from the midweek injury to Pause, as the club originally was going to go with a customary 4-4-2.
The Fire have yet to piece together the type of possession-driven, attack-minded performance it is hoping for from its central midfield. But maybe Puerari can turn into a key cog in that position.
The center midfield and the defensive inconsistencies continue to be the question marks surrounding this Fire team, and neither area was directly addressed with Nazarit's signing.
Most games are won in the midfield, and with more than 20 percent of the season gone and a second-to-last stance in the East standings, the Fire have yet to roll out a continuous group in the middle of the pitch.