As a Chicago Fire soccer fan, I know firsthand how boring MLS soccer can be. I normally prefer to watch European soccer, but occasionally I turn on the train wreck of a team the Fire is and hope for a win. While the Chicago Fire are currently in shambles, the future looks brighter for the team.
The MLS recently announced that the 2017 MLS All-Star game will be held at Soldier Field. This exposure to Chicago’s potential market can help generate new fans and create interest in an up and coming team.
Let’s look at the promise that this team has in the three main areas of the field.
The key player for the Fire offense last year was clearly David Accam. Last year he scored 9 goals and had 2 assists during the year. One promising stat for his future is his average of 3 shots per game. The Fire need a central offensive player who can lead/run their attack. I hope that Accam and new addition Nemanja Nikolic can vastly improve the Fire’s offensive potential. Nikolic arrived from Legia Warsaw as a Designated Player. While playing champions league football for the Legionnaires, Nikolic scored a total of 14 goals in 28 appearances. Michael de Leeuw, a standout from last year, needs to keep up his 7 goal production for the Fire to be successful. Daniel Johnson should be a player for the future up front. The Fire picked him with the 11th pick in the SuperDraft and believe he is a promising talent on the wing.
The player who will really need to step up this season in the midfield will be recently acquired Dax Mccarty. When Mccarty was captaining the NY Red Bulls last season, he averaged 2.5 interceptions and 2.5 tackles a game. The Fire only averaged 46% possession last season. Dax, new acquisition Juninho, and Arturo Alvarez will need to be strong in the midfield to maintain possession. Speaking of Alvarez, his passing production will need to improve this season for the team to fare well. He totaled 9 assists last year with 71% passing percentage as the anchor last year. A player for the future for the Fire is Collin Fernandez, an exciting 19 year old who has played well in the preseason last year and with Louisville City and St. Louis FC.
The defense is probably the most promising part of this current Fire team. Their two defensive mainstays from last year 23 year old Jonathan Campbell and 21 year old Rodrigo Ramos who both made 30 and 16 appearances respectively. In only 16 games Ramos averaged 3.3 tackles per game and teams up with 22 year old Brandon Vincent on the right flank who averaged 1.1 tackles a game. Sean Johnson was the first choice goalie last season, but with his departure, the Fire will need a new number 1. Matt Lampson and veteran signee Jorge Rodrigo Bava will compete for the starting role. Lampson averaged 5 saves a game last year, and Bava kept 9 shutouts in 28 appearances for his club team last year.
While Chicago is far from making the playoffs or winning its second MLS cup, the Fire are on the upswing. As a Chicago fan, I often have to turn to other sources of soccer to watch true quality. However, I hope that the new management team hired in 2015 keeps developing the players and club. Hopefully one day in the future I can see the Fire return as champions of the MLS just as they did in the inaugural season.
Mathew Cox, Sports Analytics and Business
Image Courtesy of Chicago Fire; Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com; Transactions Courtesy of MLS.com.