For the short term, at least, the Fire will be without Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini for Friday night's road match against Sporting Kansas City.
"He won't make the trip to this one," Fire coach Frank Klopas said after Thursday's training session in Bridgeview. "He hasn't trained. Hopefully he'll be ready for the next one."
That would be Tuesday at Houston.
Grazzini's future with the Fire has been clouded the past few weeks, but Javier Leon, managing director of Andell Sports Group, cleared up some of the mystery on Thursday. Andell Sports Group operates the club for owner Andrew Hauptman.
The Fire signed Grazzini to a one-year contract midway through last season. That contract carried with it the club's option to keep him through the end of this season. In a weird series of developments, Grazzini told reporters two weeks ago that he wanted to stay with the team after his contract expires on Sunday but that he wanted a more lucrative deal. The Major League Soccer Players Association says he is being paid 50,000 for this season, which makes him one of the lowest-paid players on the club.
A week later, after discussions with Grazzini, his representatives and Andell staffers, Grazzini admitted that he didn't understand the terms of his contract. He played well in a 59-minute stint during the club's 2-1 win over Columbus on Saturday, then showed a t-shirt saying "Thanks, Chicago" as he left the field. Some took that to mean he was bidding the club a fond farewell.
That apparently wasn't the case. Grazzini practiced with the Fire on Thursday but cordially declined a media interview afterwards. Leon and Klopas did all the talking on the matter.
"The Grazzini option has been triggered," Leon said, "and we expect him to be with us at least until the end of the year - and hopefully further than that."
Leon and Klopas insisted that the Fire always planned to exercise the club's option on Grazzini's services, which was part of a contract proposed by the players' representatives.
No announcement was made until Thursday, however, and the Fire signed well-regarded Brazilian midfielder Alex a month ago - an indication that a replacement for Grazzini was in place. Alex joined the Fire for training two weeks ago and will be eligible to play for the first time at Kansas City. Klopas said Alex will make the trip and that "he's an option" to take Grazzini's role in the first XI.
Leon acknowledged that the Fire's failure to make an announcement on exercising the option on Grazzini created speculation but blamed that on Grazzini.
"A month ago he came to us and said there were family issues he wanted to address and maybe he could go back to Argentina," said Leon. "So, we have been working with him to make him understand the commitment he's made to us. In our minds (exercising the option) was a done deal, but he asked us to explore the possibilities. That's why we didn't make an announcement. It was more semantics than anything else. There never was an issue about us picking up his option."
He also admitted that there were talks about the terms of Grazzini's contract, but Leon said, "We explained that we never negotiate a contract during the season." The existing pact expires after this season.
Leon wouldn't elaborate on Grazzini's "family issues" but the player did miss two days of training this week - the reason Klopas cited for leaving him off the travel roster. Leon said the family issue is "evolving."
"When you're dealing with family situations, there's always some difficulties," Leon said. "We want a Grazzini that is 100 percent. We're hoping the issues will be resolved and he'll be a happy player. We explained to him that he has to be 100 percent in."
Meanwhile, the club trimmed its roster in anticipation of picking up a player or two now that the international transfer window has opened. Kheli Dube, a forward acquired from the New England Revolution in this year's re-entry draft, was released and defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe was traded to Real Salt Lake for a 2014 draft pick. Neither Dube nor Watson-Siriboe appeared in a first team match this season.
The new players brought in at the start of this season have been only mildly successful. There have been reports that Uruguayan forward Federico Puppo, who has also been slow in adjusting to a new team, is furthered hampered by an ankle problem now and that Rafael Robayo, a backup midfielder, wants to return to his Colombian club.
Leon disputed the latter report.
"Robayo is interesting," he said. "He had a tremendous career in Colombia and wants to play more here."
There is no indication that will happen any time soon, though Klopas has not named a replacement for Grazzini at Kansas City. Klopas is hoping another forward, or perhaps a midfielder, can be added to the roster soon. Two names that have been mentioned are Andriy Shevchenko, the 35-year old Ukrainian striker who is hoping to move to Major League Soccer, and Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald.
Leon is not expecting "major changes" and is leery about bringing in established stars after the bad experiences with Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo two seasons ago. Both were brought in as Designated Players, which allows MLS teams to sign international players that put the team over the salary cap; neither stayed with the Fire after that campaign ended.
"One of the lessons we learned from the past is that it's not about one player. It's about the team," Leon said. "But we'll evaluate everything."
"You're always hoping a guy can come in and have an immediate impact," Klopas said, "but you've got to be realistic. The history of our club shows that it takes some time. There's an adjustment period for players coming in."
In addition to Grazzini and the injured Puppo, the Fire will be without defender Gonzalo Segares on Friday. He will serve a one-game suspension for the red card he drew in the Columbus match.