Daily Herald
Fire may have acquired special player with Castillo
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 7/21/2010 2:15 PM

Cuauhtemoc Blanco is not coming back to the Fire.

Disappointed? There's no reason you should be.

The Fire is better off without Blanco.

He served the team well for three seasons. He entertained fans with his cheeky back heels, and he scored his share of highlight-reel goals, and what the Fire will miss most on the field is his pure will to win. That kind of desire to fight for a victory is missing on this team, especially with John Thorrington on the injured list since preseason training.

The team may have found that kind of attitude in Nery Castillo, Blanco's countryman and the Fire's just-signed Designated Player.

At age 37 Blanco is a shadow of his former self. He was always as mobile as a desk, and he's only slowing down. Mexico used him as a substitute in the World Cup, and that's probably the best way for him to play now, but that wouldn't work for the Fire. Not for the money they would have to shell out, not the way fans would demand to see him go 90 minutes.

Blanco rarely played defense, and the way he roamed the field, the concept of a formation quickly went out the window. Blanco drifted wherever whim took him.

That worked then, more often than not, though it must have driven former coach Denis Hamlett a little nuts. Now Blanco's role would have been little more than distribution and penalty kicks. Give him the ball and let him try to get it to Castillo or Brian McBride where they can score.

The Fire probably misses Blanco more off the field than on. He drew fans to the stands, and the club's corporate shirt sponsor loved him.

Maybe Best Buy will learn to love Castillo almost as much as it loves Blanco. That would be good news for the Fire on and off the field.

In Castillo, technical director Frank Klopas found a talented, creative player in the prime of his career, a change of pace from the usual DP who sees MLS as a halfway house to retirement.

Klopas has room for up to two more DPs, and he talked of filling both spots if he can find the right fit. With Castillo, McBride and Collins John, the club seems set in the big-name forward department even without Blanco, unless coach Carlos de los Cobos opts to use Castillo in a much-needed playmaker's role.

That leaves midfielder, defender and goalkeeper and lots of questions. American teams rarely sign a foreigner to play goalkeeper, and Tim Howard isn't coming back from England anytime soon, so that position seems unlikely, even if it is the weakest spot in the lineup.

How far does the Fire want to go? Will it try to keep up with the star-struck Red Bulls, who have added Thierry Henry to Juan Pablo Angel with Rafael Marquez reportedly set to join them?

Will the Fire react to the rumors of Ronaldinho coming to the Los Angeles Galaxy by trying to make a big splash of its own?

Does the Fire have the resources and the chutzpah to try to match the big teams on the coasts DP for DP? Or will the Fire opt to wait for its many walking wounded to return, then hope to make a Real Salt Lake-like playoff push?

The summer transfer window is open for another three weeks.

oschwarz@dailyherald.com