Editorial (January 11, 2018) – The Chicago Fire made their first roster addition for the 2018 season by signing Illinois native Grant Lillard. The 22-year-old defender recently finished his fourth year at Indiana University and officially signed as the Fire’s 10th ever Homegrown Player on Wednesday. The highly acclaimed Lillard is a promising addition to the Men in Red, who are in need of players in a number of positions.
With the addition of the collegiate star, the Fire now have five central defenders in their squad. Fire fans have been kept waiting for news on their 2018 squad and now eagerly await additional arrivals in the Chicago Fire’s off-season. By this time last year the Fire had already announced the signings of 2017 golden boot winner Nemanja Nikolic, veteran midfielder Juninho, and Uruguayan goalkeeper Jorge Bava.
Chicago Fire’s Off-Season yet to Take Shape
Chicago’s MLS team had a much improved squad in 2017 and ended up with an impressive third place finish. Head Coach Veljko Paunovic has remained at the Fire’s helm and has retained his coaching staff. The core of the squad was solidified as well by extending the contract of All-Star midfielder Dax McCarty.
At the time of writing however, the 2018 squad of players remains to be built. One would assume much of the delay involved with new arrivals lies in the Bastian Schweinsteiger contract negotiations. The squad building budget size will vary greatly depending on the possible extension of the German’s contract. Reports have stated the negotiations are going well, but the decision has yet to be made public.
— Robert Kerr (@LWOSr2kerr2) January 11, 2018
With or without the World Cup winning legend, the Fire need to add players in a number of positions. The Men In Red need wingers, forward depth, and goalkeepers. David Accam is the only healthy winger on the current roster and may not stay in MLS for the 2018 season.
The Fire were fortunate to have star forward Nemanja Nikolic stay healthy and scoring goals in 2017. Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez cannot rely solely on the Hungarian for a second straight season. Matt Lampson was the number one goalkeeper for most of the 2017 season but his performances faltered greatly as the season wore on.
Spain and Real Madrid goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas has surprisingly been repeatedly linked with a move to Toyota Park for 2018. The importing of a goalkeeper of this status and advanced age seems hard to believe, but I said the same this about Schweinsteiger before he arrived last March.
New Homegrown Defense
At a time of unknowns concerning the 2018 Chicago Fire roster, the first signing of the Chicago Fire’s off-season is a well known commodity. Grant Lillard, Chicago’s new Homegrown defender was born locally in Hinsdale, IL and played with the Chicago Fire U-16 and U-18 Academies before going to play at nearby Indiana University. The 6’4″ center back will add height and strength to a thin Fire back line.
Lillard may also add a missing element to Chicago’s offense too. The Fire did not score from a set piece in 2017, which really hurt the Fire’s offensive output. The team could have used a scrappy corner goal or two in 2017, especially during Nikolic’s mid-season dry spell. Lillard contributed an impressive 14 goals and 9 assists in his 86 collegiate games.
Lillard will now compete with third year defender Jonathan Campbell, the often injured Christian Dean and Cuban International Jorge Corrales to partner with MLS All-Star defender Johan Kappelhof.