The Chicago Fire enter the 2017 MLS season ready to catch fi-….Fire. A look at their updated roster, major story lines, and predictions for the year ahead.
There is a rekindling happening on Harlem Ave. Dying embers of a forlorn franchise have been fanned back to life by a series of stunning signings. Those flames have grown larger, still, with the awarding of the MLS All-Star Game. A new identity installed, the Chicago Fire look poised to stun the critics.
Starting his second cycle with the club, GM Nelson Rodriguez has built upon positional strengths while thoroughly reshaping the nucleus of the team with three key signings. Coach Veljko Paunovic’s side looks rejuvenated thanks to the new talent at his disposal.
A Recap of 2016
Will these newest additions provide enough firepower to propel the Chicago Fire to their first playoff appearance since 2012?
Finishing Position: 20th in MLS, 10th in Eastern Conference
Last place finishers and wooden spoon recipients for the last two seasons, the Chicago Fire certainly have a lot of ground to make up on the rest of the MLS. 2016 saw the team score 42 Goals For, the lowest total of any Eastern Conference club.
On the other side of the ball, the Fire’s 58 Goals Against represented the second most given up in the entire league. These alarming stats suggest that drastic improvements were needed at both ends of the pitch.
Nelson Rodriguez’s latest round of signings have seemingly addressed some of those concerns. From a press release on the teams website regarding the acquisition of Juninho: “Going into this off-season, we set our intentions on identifying game-changing players with championship experience along the spine of our line-up. Including the signing of Nemanja Nikolic, we’ve acquired two players whom attracted significant interest from other clubs worldwide.”
Make that three, with their trade for Dax McCarty.
The Chicago Fire have clearly been injected with much-needed quality in this last window, revamping their once weak central midfield into potentially one of the league’s strongest. Goals seem in the offing for new target-man Nikolic. There was one other trade, however, that caught a few Fire fans off-guard.
- Sean Johnson, GK, (trade to NYCFC)
- Rodrigo Ramos, (declined)
- Alex Morell, (declined)
- Michael Stephens, (declined)
- Nick LaBrocca, (declined)
- Eric Gehrig, (declined)
- Patrick McLain, (declined)
- Khaly Thiam, (declined)
- and Razvan Cocis (declined)
- Nemanja Nikolic, (Transfer, Legia Warsaw)
- Juninho, loan, (Loan, Club Tijuana)
- Dax McCarty, (Trade, NY Red Bulls)
- Jorge Rodrigo Bava, (Free transfer)
- Daniel Johnson, (SuperDraft pick)
- Stefan Cleveland, (SuperDraft pick)
- Djordje Mihailovic, (Homegrown signing)
Predicted Staring XI for Opening Weekend
The Chicago Fire have enhanced their on-field quality greatly, yet the MLS is not stuck inside a vacuum. With other teams improving all the while, the Fire need to continue this newfound ambition they’ve shown early in the transfer window and add. Fan conjecture seems to be that the club first and foremost needs an improved right back, then, a more flashy right winger, and finally, a true enganche.
The Chicago Fire, although improved, still are on the outside looking in, playoffs-wise, until proven otherwise. If Coach Paunovic can organize a thrilling attack, however, the league may be in for a surprise. As it is, fans are quite excited to start the campaign. It’s the best roster they have seen in years.
Predicted Finishing Position: 7th in the Eastern Conference