The Chicago Fire’s early years were marked with major successes. They lifted the 1998 MLS Cup and had an impressive two-trophy season in 2003, capturing the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield. They won the cup again in 2006 and attracted Cuauhtémoc Blanco to the club shortly afterward, making a conference final in the Mexican legend’s final season. But the Fire haven’t won a playoff game since — that’s 10 seasons, math majors — and have only made the postseason once in the last seven years.
Fire supporters are growing tired of the team’s struggles, but have reason to believe they’ll pick themselves up from the basement of the league this season. Nemanja Nikolic and Dax McCarty are impressive pickups, while they have reason to expect improvement from their young draft picks who played well last season.
Head coach Veljko Paunovic focused on implementing his system over results last season, leading to some comical defensive performances. But now that his team has a solidified midfield and dangerous striker up top, that decision could start paying off.
Three reasons to be pumped for 2017
Give us less than two minutes and we'll have you ready for 2017.Posted by Hot Time In Old Town: Chicago Fire Centric Blog About Chicago Soccer on Tuesday, February 28, 2017
2016 record: 7-17-10, 10th place in the Eastern Conference
2016 playoffs: Did not qualify
Head coach: Veljko Paunovic
Key additions: Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty, Juninho, Jorge Bava
Key losses: Sean Johnson, Razvan Cocis, Michael Stephens, Rodrigo Ramos
Projected starting XI (4-2-3-1): Jorge Bava; Brandon Vincent, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Michael Harrington; Dax McCarty, Juninho; David Accam, Michael de Leeuw, Arturo Alvarez; Nemanja Nikolic.
Major trophies won, all-time: 1998 MLS Cup; 2003 Supporters Shield; 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006 U.S. Open Cup
What we think of our team: The Fire are a study in battered dignity and downward mobility — we were mighty once, and young — but we persevere in our lesser state, dreaming of a return to glory.
What outsiders think of our team: “It’s a shame to see what was once a perpetual winner slide to the bottom of the league in just about every category. Hopefully the ownership and front office will turn the tide, and the fan base will start turning out again in full force.”
Chicago Fire’s biggest rival: Columbus Crew SC have traditionally been our Midwestern rivals, largely because it's the closest drive without crossing an international border. But also because the entire state of Ohio smells like a field drenched in liquefied fecal matter. Additionally, the color yellow makes me think of the King in Yellow, and we like our football clubs free of the taint of supernatural evil.
Best social media follow: If you want unvarnished hot takes, no one can touch the truth-spitting majesty of Dax McCarty on Twitter.
Our season hinges on … a good start. The Fire have gotten into a habit of stumbling hard out of the gate since 2010, then trying hard to regain balance. A poor start against a not-imposing early schedule won't doom the season, but will have everyone around the team feeling familiar sinking feelings.
Why this year won’t be like last year: There's just better talent on hand to implement Paunovic's system. The central midfield makeover is a revelation, and to Accam's lightning pace the Fire have added tactical nous (de Leeuw) and ruthless finishing (Nikolic). If the defense can improve to even simply “credible,” the Men in Red will be in competition for postseason.
Key player: David Accam enters 2017 with all the physical tools he's always had, plus a chip on his shoulder after playing on two terrible teams, and a much more talented group around him than in 2015-16. If Accam doesn't start sulking for a transfer, this could be a special season for him.
Projected finish in 2017: 11th in the Eastern Conference.
Wild prediction: Nemanja Nikolic has a habit of winning the Golden Boot wherever he goes. He’ll do it again in 2017 en route to establishing a new Fire single-season scoring record.