Chicago Fire: Time to get excited about offseason signings

Przemyslaw Frankowski of Poland looks on during the UEFA Nations League A Group 3 match between Portugal and Poland at Estadio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes, Portugal on November 20, 2018 (Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Przemyslaw Frankowski of Poland looks on during the UEFA Nations League A Group 3 match between Portugal and Poland at Estadio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes, Portugal on November 20, 2018 (Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

After making a number of impressive offseason signings, it’s time for Chicago Fire fans to get excited about the upcoming season.

The 2019 season is less than two weeks away for the Chicago Fire, who are now in the final stretch of their preseason preparations. The club recently started their campaign in the Carolina Challenge Cup, drawing 1-1 in the opener against the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon. The front office hasn’t had a perfect offseason, as the roster isn’t quite yet complete. However, the signings that have been made so far have improved upon a number of positions that were problematic last season, which should leave fans optimistic for the year ahead.

Since trading Sean Johnson, the Chicago Fire have not had a reliable goalkeeper that could get the job done week in and week out. Former starters like Matt Lampson and Richard Sanchez were just accidents waiting to happen every time they took the field. It seems Chicago finally have their man between the posts, however, as MLS veteran David Ousted joined the club off waivers. A former All-Star, the Dane isn’t as good as he once used to be, but he is someone who the Men In Red will be able to trust at the back. His experience means he’ll be less prone to errors, and he’s still got the ability to make a blockbuster save or two, which will be key in improving the team’s defensive record.

Speaking of the backline, the Fire brought in a much-needed center-back, while also signing another to a long-term deal. Last season, the lack of depth at the position meant that Bastian Schweinsteiger and Brandon Vincent were forced to fill in on several occasions. That never really worked, predictably, and it was clear a natural center-back was needed in the winter. The club decided to sign Marcelo from Portuguese league side Sporting Lisbon. He isn’t the tallest, but the Brazilian makes up for it with his speed and experience. A partnership between Marcelo and Johan Kappelhof, who signed a contract extension earlier in the offseason, could prove to be much better than what the Fire have had in the past.

Further up the pitch, the Chicago Fire added a requisite attacker to help ease the goalscoring burden. Aleksandar Katai took the league by storm last season, but cooled down considerably as the season went on. As the rest of MLS learned more about him, teams were figuring out how to slow him down. Nemanja Nikolic won the Golden Boot in 2017, but had a much harder time the year after as opposing defenders simply focused in on him, knowing he was the lone goalscoring threat in the team. A third attacking option was needed to help those two out, and the Fire brought in Polish international Przemysław Frankowski to be that alternative threat. A winger who likes to take on his man, his dribbling ability should help break down opposing defenses and open up space in the final third for his teammates to exploit. He also injects some needed pace. The Fire should be able to create plenty of chances with Frankowski getting in behind the opposing defense.

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These signings are especially promising because the core in Chicago was quite good already. There’s a World Cup-winner in Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty is still one of the premier defensive midfielders in the league, and Nikolic and Kappelhof are former All-Stars, while Katai was one of the Newcomers of the Year in 2018. The Fire even have one of the most promising youngsters in MLS, with Djordje Mihailovic impressing everyone on international duty with the United States National Team in January. If they can gel with the new signings, then there’s plenty of potential for success in the Windy City.

There are still reasons for the Fire faithful to be cautious, of course. An increasing amount of fans are doubtful of head coach Veljko Paunovic, with many still unsure of what to expect from him. He was brilliant in 2017, but made a number of mistakes the year after. There is also the amount of bridges burned by the Serbian, who has forced out a number of promising players like David Accam and Sean Johnson. It’s impossible to tell if he’ll be able to best utilize these new signings, which could lead to any one of them flopping upon arrival, but he now has the tools to success.

Another reason to fear is injuries. The core of the team is getting up there in age. McCarty and Nikolic are both already 31; Schweinsteiger will turn 35 over the summer. An extended spell on the sidelines for any of those players could derail the season in a moments notice, which is not all that unlikely given their ages.

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It won’t be clear until the end of the campaign whether or not fans were foolish to get their hopes up, but the new signings made in the offseason should give the Chicago Fire fan base plenty of reason to be optimistic for the upcoming season.