Fire owner Andrew Hauptman places emphasis on winning
BY SETH GRUEN For Sun-Times Media March 16, 2012 10:26PM
German international star Arne Friedrich is expected to shore up the Fire’s back line. THORSTEN WAGNER~GETTY IMAGES
Updated: April 19, 2012 8:37AM
Major League Soccer might have made a commercial splash over the last few years with the signings of David Beckham and Thierry Henry, but past-their-prime international stars hoping to sign megadeals shouldn’t bother looking to the Fire.
While the team has and will actively pursue high-caliber international players, the mandate from the club’s front office is that all contracts need to translate into victories. Marketability is not a priority.
“My mentality is about winning games,” said Fire owner Andrew Hauptman, who added that his priority is getting players who make a “real impact on the field. I would argue that nothing is more powerful than winning games.”
This offseason, with the singing of stalwart German defender Arne Friedrich, the Fire found a brand-name player capable of fulfilling the owner’s requirement.
Friedrich won’t be in uniform on Saturday when the Fire plays its season opener in Montreal against the expansion Impact. But Friedrich, a World Cup veteran, adds depth to a back line that was questioned heading into the season.
Friedrich’s signing capped off an active offseason for the Fire, which also brought in Colombian midfielder Rafael Robayo, forward Federico Puppo and goalkeepers Jay Nolly and Paolo Tornaghi.
“You can bring players, but there always is going to be a period of adjustment for them to the league and new teammates,” coach Frank Klopas said. “But for sure getting depth increases the quality all around.”
New starting goalie Sean Johnson is with the U.S. Olympic team, which will start the qualifying round at the end of the month.
While Johnson is the Fire’s sure-fire starter, Nolly and Tornaghi were brought in specifically to compete with one another for the starts in games Johnson will miss.
After Thursday’s training session, Klopas said he had made a decision on who would start against the Impact, but wouldn’t say. Nolly, a veteran, is the favorite but both had practiced with the first team recently.
“The goalkeeper situation is great,” Nolly said. “Sean is away but me and Paolo are battling and it’s a coin flip. He’s done very well in the games he’s played and I feel like I’m working hard.”
Puppo’s playing time appears up in the air.
Klopas seems to like the combination of speedy Ghanaian forwards Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nykara. That could leave the technically skilled Puppo on the bench.
“The team is most important,” Puppo said. “I want to play but I have to respect [the decision], because I came one month ago.”