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The beginning of a new season always comes with an aura of freshness. I don’t know if it’s the crisp winter air as the calendar turns toward spring, or the renewed hope that this could finally be the year that the Fire contend in the East. Whatever it is, there is certainly a sense of fresh optimism as we inch closer to the beginning of 2014. I know, history is telling me that I should temper my enthusiasm. After all, the 2013 season was one of both incredible highs and seemingly bottomless lows. From the awful start, to the arrival of eventual league MVP Mike Magee, to the late season collapse, and finally the cleaning out of the front office, 2013 definitely saw headlines at Toyota Park.
So, heading into 2014 with a completely new soccer staff, how do things look? Let’s examine the key departures and arrivals to the club.
Frank Klopas (HC) – The firing of this Fire legend wasn’t much of a surprise after the team failed to find consistency during his tenure at the helm. His time in Chicago was mired by poor scouting, bad contracts, and a mixture of both good and bad soccer. It sucks to see him go, but a change was needed. I wish Frank the best of luck with L’Impact.
Austin Berry (D) – The former Rookie of the Year went through a bit of a sophomore slump during the 2013 season. Whether it was due to coaching, fatigue, or just the lack of having the veteran presence of Arne Friedrich at the back with him, Berry definitely took a step back in 2013. That said, this was a player that many felt could be a piece to build a team around. This move came at us hard and fast and by the time the dust settled most supporters were stunned with the news. Berry’s move to Philadelphia will no doubt be the biggest loss to this club during this offseason.
Daniel Paladini (M) – This Fire midfielder never quite managed to get routine playing time under Frank Klopas. When he did play he was a fierce competitor. He was the type of player that Fire supporters love. Scrappy, gritty, and sure to be shown more than his fair share of yellow cards. He showed some talent during his time in red, but truthfully with as crowded as this midfield has become, there simply wasn’t room for him. Surely going to be missed from a supporter perspective, but not necessarily from a soccer sense.
Arevalo Rios (M) – The 32 year old Uruguayan certainly helped bolster this club upon his arrival in 2013. He wasn’t a necessity for 2014, and with the price tag he would’ve come with, it was better for the club to part ways and move forward. Again, there are enough pieces in this midfield to make up for the loss of Rios.
Paolo Tornaghi (GK) – The 25 year old Inter Milan youth product was a fantastic backup to Sean Johnson when he came on in 2012. However, his appearances in 2013 were a definite drop off. He’s a good young ‘keeper, but playing behind Sean Johnson doesn’t allow for much time on the pitch, and that can stifle the development of a youngster very quickly.
Jalil Anibaba (D) – Another one of the Fire’s young defenders over the last couple of years, he faced some criticism during the 2013 campaign. Playing as part of a backline that gave up 52 goals, Anibaba deserved some of the criticism lobbed his way. Best of luck to him in Seattle.
Others Out: Corben Bone (M), Joel Lindpere (M), Maicon Santos (F), Michael Videira (M), Shaun Francis (D), Wells Thompson (M), Kellen Gulley (F), Brendan King (M)
Frank Yallop (HC) – The arrival of Frank Yallop and his new staff was seen as a major coup for the Fire. With reports that Yallop was headed to Canada swirling, Yallop was lured to Chicago and given the keys to the castle located at 71st and Harlem. I’ve always liked Yallop as a manager, and I believe that he will have the Fire contending in the East very, very soon.
Harry Shipp (M/F) – Arguably the best moment of the 2014 offseason was when MLS confirmed the Fire homegrown status of this talented young player. Had Shipp gone to the MLS Superdraft he likely would’ve been taken in the first few picks. He’s been lighting up the preseason and could very well contend with Alex for a starting spot early in the season. There’s nothing but upside for this kid.
Lovel Palmer (D) – Bringing Palmer in from Real Salt Lake was the first move of the offseason that was intended to shore up the porous backline. It should be interesting to see how he develops with the rest of this revamped Fire defense.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (D) – Yallop and Co. managed to get both Hurtado and Patrick Ianni from Seattle in the Jalil Anibaba deal. This deal instantly provided the depth necessary in the CB position, but ultimately opened the door for Berry’s departure to Philadelphia.
Benji Joya (M) – The Fire’s good fortune during the 2014 offseason extended to their weighted lottery victory to sign Benji Joya on loan from Liga MX side, Santos Laguna. The US U-20 player is one of the more highly touted youngsters in the national team, and his addition to an already impressive midfield should make the Fire very dangerous going forward from the middle third.
Others in: Giuseppe Gentile (M), Kyle Reynish (GK), Patrick Ianni (D), Chris Ritter (M), Orr Barouch (F), Marco Franco (D)
Prediction: Ultimately, I believe that Mike Magee doesn’t have another MVP performance in 2014, but he doesn’t need to. The club has spent much of the offseason acquiring talent to surround Magee, and this club is going to have one of the deepest, youngest, and potentially most explosive midfields in the league.
The big question mark for 2014 will be Juan Luis Anangono. Will he find his form in MLS? He showed some flashes of brilliance after joining the club last summer, but he needs to find the consistency that should go along with being a DP forward in MLS. If Anangono can find his scoring boots and Magee has anywhere close to the season he had last year, this club could be explosive from the midfield through to the forwards.
In addition to the opportunity to score goals, the 2014 variation of the Fire should be much more sound defensively than they were in 2013. I do not believe that the revamped backline, under the direction of CJ Brown, will give up anywhere near 52 goals in 2014.
At the end of the day, I see the Fire ending 2014 with a record of 13 wins 10 Losses and 11 draws, good for 50 points. With the Eastern conference being as improved as it is this year, 50 points probably won’t get you into the playoffs. If the Fire can pick up a few more points in matches that I think they’re going to drop points, they might be able to squeak into the 5th spot. Ultimately, I think this year will be a year of breaking in and developing the youth players and building a core for years to come.