Fire Scout Report – U23 Latino Starlets Rated
By Tamhas Woods – July 2, 2016
June 2016 ended on a positive note for the MLS’ worst ever road team, with Chicago Fire continuing their U.S Open Cup run by beating Columbus Crew 2-1. Reluctantly, Veljko Paunović’s men must focus once more on turning around a nightmarish league campaign.
Beginning July with just two wins from the first fourteen league games, Fire are on course for a second consecutive season in the proverbial basement – even with David Accam’s deadly pace and shooting ability at their disposal.
David Accam is the sole reason Chicago Fire may yet still avoid finishing bottom for the second season in a row. Get prices for Chicago Fire games at Betfair (Betfair Casino).
PICTURE CREDIT: Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0
The team has clearly been built around Accam, but the effectiveness of such a system is always finite. With the focus firmly on Accam’s half of the pitch, Fire continually allow teams to exploit their weaker side, and the results to date do not lie.
Many would argue that the over-reliance on Accam, and the subsequent lack of balance across the pitch, has been a contributory factor to Fire’s infamous winless run on the road. Embarrassingly, that run extended into a third calendar year after a 3-4 defeat to Philadelphia Union on June 22.
Ultimately, this failure to win on the road only serves to add further fuel to the argument for new blood both on and off the pitch.
IT’S ALL GOING SOUTH FOR FIRE
Although the profile of the North American game is being consistently raised by the Designated Player Rule, there is still much ground to be made on South America in terms of homegrown talent.
TRIAL BY FIRE: Forward Jarlan Barrera is one of Colombia’s latest gems, and has just broken into the international U23 squad. Could he be the perfect foil to David Accam?
Prioritising South American players in transfer plans may seem like a speculative approach, based on sentimental memories of Pele and Diego Maradona, but options are now running out for Fire.
Naturally, Brazil continues to produce some exceptional talents, and in recent years, teams such as Colombia and Uruguay have emerged from years of obscurity with a group of players often touted as the new ‘golden generation’.
CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
As of July 1, Fire had conceded the second-fewest goals of any team in the bottom five of the MLS table, indicating that defensive solidarity needs to be improved, but perhaps not totally overhauled if they desire to avoid last place.
Luis Hurtado (GK) – Deportivo Cali
Hurtado broke through to the Cali first team in 2014, but a lack of experience caused him to fall out of favour, and – sadly for Hurtado – his relegation to the substitutes’ bench coincided with Cali’s ninth Apertura title in 2015. Hurtado appeared just twice during that campaign, but the Torneo Apertura phase of 2016 saw him enjoy a greater degree of involvement.
Only time will reveal Hurtado’s true credentials, but there is a long way to go before he is targeted by MLS clubs.
Guillermo Valera (DF) – Manchester United
Simply being on the books at Manchester United gives Varela an immediate competitive edge, but the bulk of his playing experience in Europe has been acquired through a loan spell with Real Madrid B (RM Castilla), which saw the Uruguayan defender score once in 33 appearances.
With almost unrivalled resources in Europe, the football culture of current European champions Real Madrid can only be a positive influence on Varela. However, it is worth noting that RM Castilla only won Group 2 of the Segunda División B by virtue of a superior goal difference, granted in no small part by an unstoppable strikeforce.
Though a realistic target for Fire, Varela was part of an alarmingly leaky defense at RM Castilla, a team which should have shown much greater defensive resolve when one considers the stature of the senior outfit in Spain and Europe. As such, there is a great deal for Fire to ponder if there are plans to bolster the defense.
Éder Álvarez Balanta (DF) – River Plate
Although nothing concrete has emerged so far this summer, it seems as though it is only a matter of time before Balanta crosses the Atlantic and showcases his speed and tackling ability on the European stage.
Rumours of a move to Turkish club Galatasaray remain in the periphery, with (admittedly sensationalist) links to even the great FC Barcelona emerging long before his first appearance for the international side. Regardless, any MLS club courting the Colombian will need to act quickly to avoid disappointment.
As of July 2016, Éder Álvarez Balanta has made six international appearances for Colombia, and is considered one of the most promising young defenders in South America.
A lack of battling qualities in defense has been just one of Fire’s shortcomings during the desolate winless run of road games, and the acquisition of Balanta appears to be an excellent solution to this problem.
MEN IN THE MIDDLE
Nicolás Benedetti (MF) – Deportivo Cali
For Fire, goals from sources other than Accam are infrequent, and time is running out to rectify the situation. The center of the midfield performs inconsistently at best, but 19-year old Benedetti may be the answer to that problem.
Though not a constant feature in the starting XI, Benedetti’s ability to play from deep represented a real contribution to Cali’s successful Apertura campaign in 2015. Moreover, the young Colombian has maintained a return of around one goal in every five games – a stat which can only improve with experience.
Benedetti undoubtedly has the work ethic required to make a true impact, but don’t expect Fire to court him any time soon.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta (MF) – Cruzeiro
Six international appearances have yielded one goal, but De Arrascaeta’s strike rate at club level is distinctly more impressive. To date, he boasts a return of 11 goals from 38 appearances for Cruzeiro, which has resulted in an extremely tenuous link with English Premier League club Liverpool.
A high work rate and versatility are De Arrascaeta’s greatest assets, possessing a self-evident ability to work as a spontaneous support striker, yet drop back quickly when the situation demands.
If nothing else, De Arrascaeta’s presence in the Chicago Fire setup would relieve the pressure on Accam, and Kennedy Igboananike, who himself is reflecting on a disappointing goals return so far this season.
Harold Preciado (FW) – Deportivo Cali
The 22-year old Colombian forward boasts an impressive goals-per-game return, maintaining a strike rate of more than 50% over the course of three fruitful years. Not even a loan spell with Jaguares de Córdoba in 2014 could disrupt Preciado’s flow, as he yielded 21 goals from 36 appearances, fitting in to the first team seamlessly.
Though evidently a natural finisher, the more physical nature of the MLS may prove to be something of a culture shock for Preciado, but effort and determination can go a long way in football. This is a true split decision if ever there was one, wholly depending on how much the Fire management believe that the range of attacking options should be augmented.
Gabriel Fernando de Jesus (FW) – Palmeiras
Hailed as the future of the Brazilian national team, Gabriel Jesus is equally lethal in attack or on the wing – not unlike the world-famous Neymar.
With a high tempo and fearless playing style, Gabriel Fernando de Jesus entertains like a true Brazilian, and has been specially singled out for praise by 2002 World Cup hero Ronaldo.
PICTURE CREDIT: Roberto Sabino / CC-BY-SA-2.0
With a 75% goals-per-game return from four Brazil U23 matches, it seems a question of when, not if, Gabriel Jesus breaks through to the senior outfit. Indeed, his stock is set to rise drastically after the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio, with the Brazil U23s firm favourites to take gold on home turf after getting silver four years ago in London.
Acquiring Gabriel Jesus would undoubtedly see a change in form and fortune for Fire, yet alas, such a development is now all but impossible. Bayern Munich, the unstoppable machine of the German Bundesliga, made an official approach for the Brazilian on July 2, with Real Madrid and Inter Milan also vying for his signature.
Ultimately, this means that the best Fire can hope for is a disappointing introduction to European football for Gabriel Jesus, resulting in him becoming transfer listed.