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MLS Season Preview: Chicago Fire



The Chicago Fire enter 2011 coming off one of the worst seasons in club history. For only the second time since its debut season of 1998, the Fire missed the playoffs. That disappointing performance might have led to some other coaches being given the boot, but head coach Carlos De Los Cobos is back to try and improve on a sub-par first season.

If the Fire plan on making noise in the wide-open Eastern Conference, it will take some inspired efforts from new faces, particularly up top, where newly-acquired Uruguayan forwards Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari have been called on to lead the attack.

Chicago's success will depend on how the team adapts to the 3-5-2 formation De Los Cobos has chosen to employ. Marco Pappa remains the key catalyst for the Fire, while Patrick Nyarko is sure to still play a key role offensively.

Here is my Fox Soccer preview of a Fire squad that should contend for one of the final playoff spots, but a team that could wind up struggling badly in a new system.

Here are some more thoughts on the 2011 Chicago Fire:


They'll win because: The 3-5-2 formation gives opponents trouble and the Uruguayans flourish in a new league.

They'll lose because: The 3-5-2 plays more like a 5-3-2 and a lack of goal production dooms the Fire to a slow start that leads to an early departure by De Los Cobos.

Player who could break out: Diego Chaves

Player who could regress: Sean Johnson

Player who needs to improve on 2010: Gonzalo Segares

Newcomer to watch: Jalil Anibaba. The rookie defender is one to watch, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.

Projected Finish: The Fire have the pieces to challenge for a playoff spot, but success will be based on whether the new formation can work in MLS. If the Uruguayans can score, and the 3-5-2 can defend while also producing chances, Chicago can challenge for one of the final playoff spots. If the Uruguayans struggle, and the defense has a tough time with the new formation, you could see a new coach on the Fire sidelines by the summer.


 What do you think of the Chicago Fire's chances this season? Like the idea of the 3-5-2, or worried it won't work? Excited to see Sean Johnson build on his rookie year?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. 2 of the worst teams from last year. TFC is still very weak, but DCU is looking better. But the two MLS teams we faced before that were 2 of the top teams (NY and Seattle). So i think its very easy to look at the team and to see the players and pick out the positives and negatives. Still lots of questions though

  2. One defender that re-signed with the Fire is Dasan Robinson.

    When healthy, he is a solid contributor on the field. He is back and will be important to their campaign this year. He frustrated Thierry Henry in Chicago last year.

  3. Agree that Conde was poor, as was mcBride, but that is in part why we were poor last season. Their salaries have not been replaced with comparably paid players so a return to 2009, when both Conde and mcbride were decent, is unlikely. Add Brown, Castillio and Llungberg’s salary, and it is obvious we have no players paid in the top tier of the league. last or there a bouts seems accurate. I predict DLC and Klopas do not last the season.

  4. Very well said, Steve. I’ve been thinking the same thing, and I’m glad that CDLC wasn’t fired last year for not making the playoffs. You certainly need a couple years to make your mark as a new coach trying a new system, especially with the team we had last year. Some great players, yes, but a ton of different (and old) personalities with very different veteran philosophies.
    I’m cautiously optimistic about this season. Not expecting a Cup, but certainly expecting to make the playoffs. If there’s no noticeable improvement, then the talk about firing is warranted. But again, well said.

  5. The great unknown. When Sigi went to Cbus, once upon a time, he said he needed three years to deliver the MLS Cup. Which he did. De los Cobos did not have the right type of players for his system last year, despite their being talented. At all. Add to that the players he brought in from his El Salvador squad knew a much about MLS as he did. He now has firsthand experience with the nature of the league, and has admitted that some of the guys that he was able to bring in last year were not well suited for MLS.
    Sooo… now he has built, phase one, of the type of team he envisions, tempered by knowing better how to apply his vision within MLS.
    Beyond the happy, happy talk that every team makes during the preseason, there seems to be amongst the players a much better developed sense of this being a “team”.
    Ideally, the Fire come out the gate O.K.and develop a serious chemistry and style as the season progresses. If they stay reasonably healthy, the Fire should improve across the campaign. 2011 season-playoffs-check. 2012 season-dangerous.

  6. Of the three you list, only Brown played reasonably well last year. McBride was mediocre at best and Conde was a disaster. I firmly believe he cost us more points last year than any other individual, possibly including de los Cobos.

  7. Johnson looked shaky coming for balls in the box so regression could well be correct. As a shot stopper he looks great but there is more to goalkeeping than blocking shots. nyarko is one of the best players in the league. The Fire will finish last or close to it this season. They replaced big players, Conde, Brown, McBride with cheaper unknowns. they could surprise, but it’s more likely they will be a doormat. The organization doesn’t appear to be competent at anything .

  8. Sean Johnson is a beast. This is a boom or bust team. If the new faces mesh they can hang in there and add a DP in the transfer window.

  9. General comment on the Fox Sports pieces. You are going through the league team by team, it would be nice if each story had a master link to the other teams, like they did for the NBA preseason.

  10. A preseason where our last 2 matches was against two of the worst teams in the league last season. Kinda hard to make an assessment in preseason and let alone from those 2 matches. This team is full of players many of us know very little about and an attack that was anemic when it came to goals last season. Hopefully this team will exceed my low expectations this year and they’re very, very low. What gives? It’s a brief preview and one could argue more should have been said about -Pappa, Johnson, Pause, Husidic….

    I just hope this team proves me WRONG in a big way.

  11. Well said. Nyarko has torn it up in the preseason thus far. I know, I know, it’s only preseason, but if he keeps it up and Pappa continues to develop, and some of our new faces do anything at all, I think we could pleasantly surprise. Here’s to hoping…

  12. I think it’s hard to not include more about Patrick Nyarko in both write-ups. Chicago was a MUCH, much better team with him in the line-up last year, and he can certainly create numerous opportunities for the offense. HUGE part of the games where Chi actually scored goals.


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