Grading The MLS Off-Season, Part 1: Chicago Fire Have Had A Rough Go

The departure of players like Brian McBride has left the Chicago Fire seriously lacking in experience. Halfway through our look at MLS teams' off-seasons, they received the lowest grade. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

With the last of the off-season drafts behind us and training camps now open, it seems like a good time to take a look at how teams have fared since the season ended in November. While some there's still time for change between now and the start of the regular season, most MLS teams will bare a striking resemblance to the ones we see today.

Before getting into the individual grades, let me first explain the criteria I'll be using. Namely, I'm not just looking at the players teams added and subtracted, but I'm also looking at who was retained. Mainly, I want to get a sense of how the power structure may have shifted. We're taking these teams in alphabetical order. Here's Part 2.

Chicago Fire

Key additions: Corey Gibbs, Daniel Paladini, Jalil Anibaba. Key losses: C.J. Brown, Brian McBride, Wilman Conde, Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo.

Those are some pretty big names in the "losses" category. In Brown and McBride, the Fire lost two of their veteran leaders. In Ljungberg and Castillo, they lost their two Designated Players. In Conde, they lost their best defender. Even if Gibbs resurrects his career, Paladini is able to continue the form which saw him earn Best XI honors each of the past two years with the Carolina Railhawks and Anibaba turns out to be a rookie dynamo, there are still some big holes to fill. This is going to be a young team and will almost certainly undergo some growing pains. Even if all six of the players they picked in the Super and Supplemental drafts make the team, they still have five open roster spots. They've obviously still got a ways to go. Grade: D+, but with cap and roster space to improve.

Chivas USA

Key additions: Alejandro Moreno, Jimmy Conrad, Tristan Bowen, Zarek Valentin, Victor Estupinan. Key losses: Jonathan Bornstein, Giancarlo Maldonaldo, Marcelo Saragosa.

Based just on the players that came and went, this has been a solid off-season, especially when you consider Chivas USA also hired a promising head coach (Robin Fraser). But this team has as long a way to go as any and I'm not sure anyone they acquired is a real game-changer.  Bowen could turn out to be a real find and Conrad probably has some good years left in him, but I'd be shocked if this team made the playoffs. Their roster is also looking mighty full, so we shouldn't really expect too many more changes. Grade: C, but heading in the right direction.

Colorado Rapids

Key additions: Joseph Nane, Sanna Nyassi, Tyrone Marshall, Eddie Ababio. Key losses: Julien Baudet, Danny Earls, Claudio Lopez.

There are a lot of names up there, but really none of them are of particular consequence. None of the Rapids losses were particularly costly, and Nyassi is the only addition who will likely get much playing time. But this wasn't a team that needed an overhaul; winning the MLS Cup rarely calls for change in direction. The best move of the off-season was merely holding firm on Omar Cummings' potential loan. That said, few believe this was really the best team in MLS last year and I'm not sure there's any reason to think this team is going to compete for the Supporters' Shield. Still, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Right? Grade: B-, credit for keeping the band together.

Columbus Crew

Key additions: Sebastian Miranda, Tom Heinemann, Rich Balchan, Justin Meram, Cole Grossman. Key losses: Eric Brunner, Adam Moffat, Jason Garey, Brian Carroll, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Steven Lenhart, Gino Padula.

If it seems like the Crew jettisoned their entire starting XI, there's a reason for that: Each of those eight players listed started at least nine matches and six of them started at least 15. One one hand, it's hard to blame the Crew. After a strong start, this team really started to show its age down the stretch and limped into the playoffs before bowing out in the first round. On the other, there's no clear direction other than handing over the keys to the kids despite little reason to believe they've learned to drive. This is a off-season that could end up defining the Crew for years to come, for better or worse. Grade: C-, but could be upgraded to a if they can sign Jeff Cunningham and fill out their roster with some useful pieces.

DC United

Key additions: Dax McCarty, Joseph Ngwenya, Ethan White, Josh Wolff, Steve Cronin, Rodrigo Brasesco, Perry Kitchen. Key losses: Rodney Wallace, Jordan Graye, Danny Allsopp, Jaime Moreno, Troy Perkins, Pablo Hernandez, Adam Cristman.

Another team that basically cleaned house this off-season, but unlike the Crew you can see some stuff to really like here. McCarty should help stabilize the central midfield and could form a nice partnership with Branko Boscovic; Wollf should provide some veteran leadership and Perry Kitchen could wind up being an absolute beast no matter where he ends up playing. It's hard to imagine DCU will miss any of the players that left this off-season, as Ben Olsen goes about remaking this team. I doubt they'll be competing for a playoff spot, but this is a team that could easily improve by 15 points. Grade: B, and trending up, up, up.

FC Dallas

Key additions: Chris Seitz, Bobby Warsaw. Key losses: McCarty, Atiba Harris, Jeff Cunningham, Dario Sala.

Without question, the biggest move FC Dallas made this off-season was re-signing reigning MVP David Ferreira. Does it overshadow the losses of McCarty and Harris? Tough to say. But this is a young team that has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. They could definitely use a few more players, and it looks like they have the salary cap room, but they probably don't really have any glaring holes that need to be filled, either. Seitz could well prove to be a nice pickup, especially since he'll be allowed to learn under Kevin Hartman. There's no reason to believe this team can't make another run at the Supporters' Shield. Grade: B-, but that's really more about inactivity.

Houston Dynamo

Key additions: Jason Garey, Jordan Graye, Hunter Freeman, Kofi Sarkodie, Will Bruin. Key losses: Ryan Cochrane, Joseph Ngwenya, Richard Mulrooney, Pat Onstad, Adrian Serioux, Anthony Obadai.

We keep waiting for the Dynamo to announce some big signing to go along with what has already been an interesting off-season. They've moved closer to having their own downtown stadium, signed up a new shirt sponsor, brought home a local who was playing overseas and acquired two highly rated players in the SuperDraft. They still have plenty of salary cap room and could very well sign up a Designated Player. This should be a better team, one that could even make a run at the playoffs, but until they bring in a game-changing talent it's hard to know what to make of their off-season. Grade: B-, but could easily become an A if they use their cap space wisely.

Los Angeles Galaxy

Key additions: Juan Pablo Angel, Frankie Hejduk, Adam Cristman, Paolo Cardozo, Chad Barrett. Key losses: Chris Klein, Eddie Lewis, Dema Kovalenko, Tristan Bowen, Edson Buddle.

Funny how the signing of one player can really turn around the way we view an off-season. Two days ago, I would have given the Galaxy a D. They had lost one of the league's only reliable goal-scorers, traded away a budding scorer, spent most of the off-season combating rumors that their two Designated Players were going on loans or seeking transfers and hadn't really added anyone particularly interesting. Then, they signed Angel and the signing of someone like Barrett suddenly seems like a nice addition and you realize they have some solid players all around the pitch. I don't quite agree that they are the favorites if the season started today, but they should be very good. Grade: B-.

New England Revolution

Key additions: Ryan Cochrane, Didier Domi, A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy. Key losses: Preston Burpo, Cory Gibbs, Khano Smith, Emmanuel Osei.

The Revolution were largely considered to have had a great SuperDraft, as both Soares and McCarthy will both likely compete for starting spots almost right away. But that's also part of the problem. Teams with playoff aspirations don't normally have multiple rookies playing significant minutes, especially not early in the season. This was a team that posted a -18 goal difference last year and allowed a league-worst 50 goals. The return of goalkeeper Matt Reis should help some, but this team has yet to find a reliable goal-scorer since Taylor Twellman's unfortunate departure. Zack Schilawski could well turn into that player, but until he can earn regular minutes, that remains to be seen. I just don't see a big turnaround here. Grade: C+.

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