Fire signs Uruguayan midfielder at deadline

Article updated: 8/9/2013 6:02 PM

Uruguay's Arevalo Rios, at left going against Argentina's Lionel Messi in a World Cup qualifying match, has signed with the Chicago Fire.

Uruguay’s Arevalo Rios, at left going against Argentina’s Lionel Messi in a World Cup qualifying match, has signed with the Chicago Fire.

Associated Press/2012 file

Now that the Chicago Fire has completed a deal for Arevalo Rios, the club has to find a roster spot for its new holding midfielder.

Fire officials were delaying any official announcement of the signing until they can open an international roster spot for the Uruguayan. Backup goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi expects to get his green card but not for another month or two. It’s more likely the Fire will transfer Dutch forward Sherjill MacDonald to a European club to open an international spot while waiting for Rios to receive his visa and International Transfer Certificate.

The Fire filled its last open international roster spots last month when it signed backup left back Shaun Francis of Jamaica and forward Juan Luis Anangono of Ecuador.

Rios also is expected to miss some MLS matches this fall when 2014 World Cup qualifying resumes. He trained with his new teammates for the first time Friday.

The Fire is not looking to trade a player in exchange for an international roster spot, said Fire president of soccer operations Javier Leon.

The Fire started looking at Rios, a 31-year-old holding midfielder, two years ago when he was playing in Mexico, Leon said. When Rios transferred to Palermo in Italy’s Serie A, Leon suspected they might never see him again.

Rios had other ideas.

He and the Fire re-established a connection in June, but the deal to make Rios a designated player in MLS just came together this week, barely completing the paperwork before the MLS secondary transfer window closed Thursday, Leon said, admitting to being surprised the deal came together so quickly.

“The fact that he wanted to come to Chicago and play for the Fire was what made the biggest difference,” Leon said.

That desire to be here is important. MLS has seen plenty of international stars come here and fail because they thought they could come here and coast. Leon compared Rios favorably to former Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo, who played well for the club before retiring this spring.

Rios is on loan to the Fire from Palermo until the end of this season, when the Fire has an option to buy his contract.

Leon said the Fire had been looking at a couple of young central attacking midfielders, but changed directions when Rios made clear his desire to play in Chicago.

“It was just very difficult to pass up a player of his stature,” Leon said.

Leon added the Fire also has started negotiations with goalkeeper Sean Johnson and his agent about extending Johnson’s contract. The Fire has an option for the 2014 season, but Johnson might want to try to play in Europe. Leon said the Fire could use MLS retention funds to extend Johnson’s contract.

Follow Orrin’s soccer reports on Twitter @orrin_schwarz.

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