[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
, whose days with Chicago soccer go back to Mather High School, and president of soccer operations Javier
. 2013 Chicago Fire Record:
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
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
(24)/USA (5th season)
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
5-Lovel Palmer (29)/Jamaica (Real Salt
34-Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (29)/Colombia (Seattle Sounders) 4-*Bakary Soumare
(28)/Mali (2nd season) 13-*Gonzalo Segares
(31)/Costa Rica (5th season)
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
(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)
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY 33-Juan Luis Anangono
(24)/Ecuador (2nd season) First off the bench: NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
(31)/USA (3rd season)
6-Patrick Ianni (28)/USA
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