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PREVIEW: Hauptman turns to Yallop to reignite Fire
by Paul Kennedy, March 2nd, 2014 8:31PM

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TAGS:  chicago fire, mls

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[MLS 2014: Eastern Conference] The Chicago Fire was a team that needed to make a change, and it quickly cleaned house after it was eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the season with a 5-2 loss at New York.

Within 48 hours of its last game, Fire owner Andrew Hauptman parted ways with head coach Frank Klopas, whose days with Chicago soccer go back to Mather High School, and president of soccer operations Javier Leon.

2013 Chicago Fire
Record: 14-13-7
Finish: 6th in Eastern Conf.
Playoffs: did not qualify.

Klopas and Leon had run the soccer operations for the club since 2008, but the Fire, one of MLS's most successful franchises, had begun to flicker. The Fire won six titles in its first decade -- including a league and cup double in its inaugural season -- but only one title -- the 2006 Open Cup -- in the last decade. Even worse, it failed to make the playoffs three of the last four years and hasn't won a playoff game since 2009 when it made the conference finals for the third year in a row. Since the signing of Cuauhtemoc Blanco in 2007, the Fire's major foreign Designated Player signings have mostly been flops.

''It's the body of work,'' Hauptman said after the departures of Klopas and Leon. ''We've had six years of leadership. I didn't take the situation lightly. Frank and Javier put their heart and soul into the club. It was time for a change.'' That change came quickly as two days later Hauptman handed the keys to Fire's soccer operations to Frank Yallop.

In taking the job, Yallop said he was inheriting a solid nucleus and his job would be to get the most out of his players. That's something he's certainly done in San Jose, where he won MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003 and the Supporters' Shield in 2012 and was twice named the MLS Coach of the Year.

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? The Fire opened up 2-7-2 in 2013, but it went 12-6-5 in MLS play after Mike Magee arrived from the LA Galaxy in late May. Magee finished with 15 goals in 22 games for the Fire and was named MLS MVP. Sean Johnson is one of the top young goalies in MLS, already fourth in the pecking order of national team keepers. The acquisition of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni from Seattle for Jalil Anibaba adds depth to the middle of the backline. Youngsters Harry Shipp and Benji Joya had strong preseasons and will push for immediate playing time in midfield as their games fit Yallop's high-intensity approach.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? The Fire has no player who can dominate a game in midfield, and no one besides Magee who scored more than four goals in 2013. Its lone returning DP, Ecuadoran Juan Luis Anangono, managed just two goals in 13 games last season. He'll have to do a lot better than that as the target man. Counting on another 21-goal season out of Magee -- he also scored six with the Galaxy -- is expecting a lot. Magee averaged just 3.6 goals a season in his first 10 years in MLS and is playing "catch-up," Yallop says, after missing much of preseason camp.

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th-8th place. Without an impact signing, it's hard to see the Fire holding off Philadelphia and Toronto FC, which both finished below it in 2013 but have spent heavily in the offseason. It is putting a lot of faith in Yallop getting a lot more out the Fire's returning players than Klopas did.



PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-1-4-1
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
25-Sean Johnson
(24)/USA (5th season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
5-Lovel Palmer (29)/Jamaica (Real Salt Lake)
34-Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (29)/Colombia (Seattle Sounders)
4-*Bakary Soumare (28)/Mali (2nd season)
13-*Gonzalo Segares (31)/Costa Rica (5th season)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
20-Jeff Larentowicz (30)/USA (2nd season)
14-Patrick Nyarko (28)/Ghana (7th season)
7-Alex (25)/Brazil (3rd season)
11-Dilly Duka (24)/USA (2nd season)
9-Mike Magee (29)/USA (2nd season)

Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
33-Juan Luis Anangono (24)/Ecuador (2nd season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
17-*Chris Rolfe (31)/USA (3rd season)
6-Patrick Ianni (28)/USA (Seattle Sounders)
19-Harry Shipp (22)/USA (Notre Dame Univ.)
54-Benji Joya (20)/USA (Santos)
Chicago Fire: Complete roster
Note: returning players in bold.
*In second stints with club.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 9: at Chivas USA, 3 pm ET (UniMas)
March 16: at Portland, 3 pm ET (UniMas)
March 23: New York, 3 pm ET (UniMas)
March 29: at D.C. United, 4 pm ET
Chicago Fire: Complete schedule


2 comments
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: March 3, 2014 at 8:29 a.m.
    "The Fire has no player who can dominate a game in midfield...." As if the MLS has several Marco Etcheverry's,; IMHO, the one and only dominant MF since the leagues inception.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: March 3, 2014 at 9:41 a.m.
    Good analysis of Fire prospects. A string of serial disasters in the DP and foreign player market have probably soured Hauptman on dumping more money down that hole. Relying on bringing in retreads may have staved off total disaster but it certainly hasn't lead to success nor to an entertaining product on the field. The cliche about not being able to go home again is particularly apt for Soumare, Rolf, and Segares. It's time for a shakeup on the field -- Pineda, Joya, and Shipp need to be thrown into the mix immediately.


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