Throughout their history, no team has enjoyed the consistent success of the Chicago Fire.
They won the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup as an expansion team in 1998, have been to the MLS Cup finals two more times, have won their division three times and won at least one playoff round in eight of the 11 years they have qualified.
So, it should come as little surprise that the team would undergo a certain amount of roster churn in the offseason following just its second ever non-playoff year.
It's safe to say, no one expected this.
Less than two weeks after the MLS Cup, the Fire have already parted ways with six players and that doesn't include the trio of Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo and Wilman Conde, all of whom are rumored to be looking elsewhere. That's potentially more than a third of the roster, roughly 40 percent of their scoring and about 40 percent of the team's non-goalkeeper minutes from last year.
All this has Hot Time In Old Town's Mark Rogers a little flustered.
There hasn’t even been a rumor about us going after anyone. The offseason is still incredibly young, but we have a lot of needs to be filled. We’re shallow at almost every position currently.
The good news for Fire supporters is there is precedence to this kind of rapid turnover paying off relatively quickly.
When the New York Red Bull hired Hans Backe as coach last year, he gutted that roster and remade it with a slew of foreign signings. Of course, he also was allowed to bring in a pair of very expensive Designated Players and has the benefit of coaching for one of the most free-spending ownerships in MLS. They went on to become the first MLS team to go from last to first, finishing atop the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
If all those players were to, in fact, leave the Fire, that would potentially clear about $4.2 million off Chicago's ledger and open two DP slots, money and flexibility that could go a long way.
Replacing all the production is not going to be easy though. Among the players the Fire have already lost are defender CJ Brown, who led the team in minutes, and Brian McBride, the team's leading scorer over the past three seasons. Ljungberg, for all the drama surrounding him, quietly had a very good half season with the Fire (two goals, seven assists) and Conde was probably their best defender.
The Fire would have to do very well just to replace that production, let alone improve upon it. Likely, the only way this team is going to decidedly improve is by their youngsters shouldering increased loads.
That's a lot of pressure on 23-year-old midfielder Baggio Husidic and Marco Pappa to equal or surpass their combined 12 goals scored and for youngsters like forwards Calen Carr and Patrick Nyarko and defenders Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Steven Kinney to shoulder heavier burdens.