Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
MLS Preview: Major improvement sets up Chicago for next task
by Ridge Mahoney, February 26th, 2013 7:55PM

MOST READ

MOST COMMENTED

By Ridge Mahoney

The Fire attained its objective last year of getting back into the playoffs after falling short in in 2010 and 2011. Now comes the hard part.

A 17-11-6 record marked its best season since 2003 but garnered only a fourth-place finish in a tough Eastern Conference race. There were notable individual accomplishments, headed by defender Austin Berry’s selection as Rookie of the Year and young goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s continuing presence on the U.S. national team. The season ended disappointingly with a 2-1 playoff loss to Houston in which, despite the homefield advantage and better regular-season record, Chicago wasn’t the better team.

Now head coach Frank Klopas takes on perhaps the most difficult task in MLS: making a postseason participant into a serious title contender. He’s revamped the midfield and added a veteran forward (see below) in a continuation of the process that last year lured ex-Fire forward Chris Rolfe back to MLS and added Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald.

“They brought in guys who filled holes they were trying to fill and it’s been pretty much a seamless transition,” said Rolfe, who scored eight goals in 22 matches after signing as a free agent last April. “We have the talent and we’ve proven we can play with the best teams in the league and beat them, even on the road, so that’s something we have to keep our focus on and find our confidence in there.”

Chicago doubled its total of road victories by winning six last year, including conference champion Sporting Kansas City and the Red Bulls. The total wins nearly doubled as well from nine to 17 (the Fire tied an incredible 16 games in 2011). Chicago is trending in the right direction but the goal this year is to reach its first MLS Cup in a decade; it lost to San Jose, 4-2, in MLS Cup 2003.

KEY PLAYER MOVES. The midfield has been revamped in the wake of Marco Pappa’s move to Heerenveen (in August), Pavel Pardo’s retirement and the loan of Alvaro Fernandez to a team in Qatar. Trades brought Joel Lindpere (from New York), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), and Dilly Duka (Columbus). And all have moved into the starting lineup, with returnee Patrick Nyarko first choice on the right.

Duka has taken up the left side of a midfield anchored by Lindpere and Larentowicz, with holding mid Logan Pause pushed to right back. The other trade acquisition, well-traveled forward Maicon Santos, has shared time up top in preseason with MacDonald. Striker Guillermo Franco retired last month after playing only three games as a late-season signing.

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? The Fire figured it out last year, and with a full preseason to work in his new midfield (which also includes returnees Alex, Corben Bone, and Daniel Paladini) and find the best fits between Nyarko, Rolfe, MacDonald and Santos, Klopas will have a lot of weapons. Santos will push MacDonald for a starting spot and is also of value coming off the bench to test tiring defenders. The back line should be tighter with the center back pairing of Berry and Arne Freidrich in its second year and could also get a boost from Logan’s experience if his shift to right back is more or less permanent.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Time will be needed to replace the Pause-Pardo pairing in central midfield and there’s no guarantee Pause can handle the demands at right back, where 1-v-1 defending is essential. The forwards are capable, but counting on each of them to score seven or eight goals is not as reassuring of sending out a bona fide double-figures guy, as Dynamo Will Bruin showed by scoring both of his team’s goals in that playoff game. Quincy Amarikwa, who was on trial during preseason, is not that guy. Last season wasn’t a great one for left back Gonzalo Segares; can he rebound back to his best,or does somebody else take the job?

WHY WATCH THIS TEAM? Nyarko’s speed is always a threat, and Rolfe’s knack for threading his way through traffic enables him to slip balls into the seams or win free kicks in good positions. The move out of Columbus seems to have revived Duka, whose sharp play featured prominently in several preseason games. Berry’s mix of toughness and savvy is remarkable given his relative lack of pro experience, and Johnson is more than capable of the amazing save.

MLS PREVIEW SERIES:
Eastern Conference: Columbus | D.C. United | Houston | Montreal | New England | New York | Philadelphia | Toronto FC
Western Conference: Chivas USA | Colorado | FC Dallas | Portland | Real Salt Lake | Seattle | Vancouver | San Jose



2 comments
  1. Dan Nelson
    commented on: February 27, 2013 at 12:55 a.m.
    Alvaro Fernandez went to Al Rayyan in Qatar, not Saudi Arabia.
  1. Dan Nelson
    commented on: February 27, 2013 at 12:57 a.m.
    Also, Sherjill MacDonald is Dutch, not Costa Rican.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
Jozy shows he's still the man up front    
U.S. soccer fans have a love-hate relationship with most of their big stars. For every fan ...
Lee Nguyen on how he parlayed longer offseason into national team success    
Revs attacker Lee Nguyen got his first U.S. start against Iceland last Sunday and turned in ...
Revs' Heaps relishes competition and preaches consistency    
Aside from the apparent departure of Jermaine Jones, not a lot has changed on the New ...
USA-Canada match underscores Olympic issues for Klinsmann    
A games against Canada Friday may be the last opportunity for USA coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and ...
Christian Pulisic, 'the American Jewel,' must be protected    
I can think of 10 reasons we should be excited about Christian Pulisic. Those are each ...
Paths of Miazga and Cropper cross with both at crucial points    
An FA Cup match this weekend between MK Dons and Chelsea is a tussle between a ...
Return of Movsisyan reconnects Real Salt Lake with its rise to success    
After five years in Europe, striker Yura Movsisyan has come back to Real Salt Lake on ...
Coaches-in-training ready to whip LA Galaxy locker room into shape    
With three MLS titles in five seasons with the LA Galaxy and a scoring rate that ...
For once, some healthy signs are coming out of Toronto    
A flurry of offseason moves has strengthened Toronto FC after it conceded as many goals as ...
Clint Dempsey on Jordan Morris, moving abroad and his national team future    
Perhaps no player on the Seattle Sounders knows better what Jordan Morris was facing in deciding ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives