Chicago Fire Add Defensive Depth and May Add More
By Daniel Casey
In a move that shows the continued strengthening of the relationship between MLS and USL, The Chicago Fire signed fullback Shaun Francis from the Charlotte Eagles on Wednesday. A Jamaican international, Francis is 26 yrs old and already has experience in top flight US soccer having played with Chicago’s dire rivals the Columbus Crew from 2010-2012 before signing with Charlotte.
With the Eagles this season Francis played 12 matches for over a thousand minutes, scoring three goals and notching two assists. Francis landed with the Charlotte Eagles, in the third tier of US soccer, after being let go by Columbus due to a nagging injury and the fact that his international status put pressure on the their roster (MLS teams are limited to a certain number of international signings a year). Fortunately, Francis bounced back from his hamstring issue and immediately found a place to play and prove his continued value. Chicago saw a good deal of Francis as they played Charlotte in the US Open Cup this year and then not long after in a Reserve League match. It was ample time to see what Francis was capable of and to mull over if he could fit into Chicago’s system.
Chicago is in dire need of defenders to bolster their backline. Before the Francis signing, Chicago had only five healthy defenders and buttress those with midfielders pushed into defensive roles. With Francis, Chicago now has a solid backup fullback option. Although Francis is primarily a leftback, he’ll probably be expected to contribute to the right side as well. This weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps, it’s likely that Francis will get his first official start due to the fact that regular leftback, Gonzalo Segares, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Look for the Fire to make some more moves to add defensive depth. Chicago Fire manager Frank Klopas has indicated that currently leftback backup, Hunter Jumper, will be moved to play centerback from now on. In a midweek friendly with Club America, Jumper featured at centerback alongside wide midfielder-cum-fullback Michael Videira. It is doubtful Videira will continue to feature at centerback but he did acquit himself well enough so it wouldn’t be completely out of bounds. Chicago have had two other internationals on trial for the past week or so, Columbian centerback Yamith Cuesta and Guatemalan centerback Elias Vasquez.
It’s Cuesta’s second go-around with Chicago and it’s a bit of mystery why. Cuesta played about twenty games for Chicago in 2011; his greatest stat was the excessive number of fouls the Colombian committed. Since then Cuesta has bounced around with lower tier Columbian sides. Obviously the team’s staff is high the 24 year-old, it remains to be seen if they have reason to be. Vasquez at 20 is a more interesting option. Recently, Vasquez captained the Guatemalan U-20 team and has seen time with the senior national team. It would seem to make more sense to invest in Vasquez over Cuesta, but the point may be moot. Chicago has one international spot remaining after the Francis signing, and it is unlikely that the team will spend it on an international defender, since the team is hoping to land an international attacking player. But if other players on the team are loaned out, released, or traded a spot may open up for either Vasquez or Cuesta.