2007 Record: 10-10-10
Coach: Denis Hamlett
Key Players: Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chris Rolfe, Justin Mapp
Key Pickups: Patrick Nyarko (Drafted 7th Overall)
Key Losses: Chris Armas (Retired), Paulo Wanchope (Retired)
2008 Outlook: Good
Of all the strange names for professional sports teams, “the Fire” has always perplexed me the most. Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I have never understood why you would want to name your squad after a disaster that killed hundreds of your city’s residents. I guess the University of Miami didn’t get that memo either.
But then again, if it had not been for the 1871 Chicago Fire, the extensive reconstruction of Chicago would never have occurred. Therefore, in some ways it sort of took the fire to spur Chicago to develop into one of the most economically important cities in America. I guess sometimes to make a city great, you invest in education, transportation and civic organizations and sometimes you just burn the sucker down and start over.
The Fire, like Chicago before them, have been burned down and rebuilt over the last few seasons. With the retirement of Chris Armas, the Men in Red who take the pitch this year hardly resemble the team that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2003. The biggest changes to the team have actually happened in the front office though. Dave Sarachan is gone and Juan Carlos Osorio’s brief reign was unremarkable. Denis Hamlett is Chicago’s new architect, and he has a recognizable assistant to aid him: fan-favorite Armas.
In 2007, the Fire played fantastic defensive soccer and ceded far less goals than any other team in the East, except for D.C. United. Despite holding their opponents out of their own net, the Fire struggled to score. In fact, the team averaged almost exactly one goal a game, third worst in the league behind only Colorado and expansion Toronto. In fact, the Fire showed little offensive firepower until Blanco arrived late in the season and spurred the team’s run to the playoffs.
In 2008, as in 2007, the Fire’s fortunes will sit precariously on the shoulders of Blanco, a thirty-five (35) year old striker from Mexico City. Despite only notching fourteen regular season appearances last season, Blanco scored four (4) goals and led the Fire in assists with seven (7). If he can continue to play at such a high level, the Fire will be a legitimate contender in the East.
However, if Blanco is slowed by injury or old age, the Fire lack another credible scoring threat. Chris Rolfe and Chad Barrett are fine players, and Calen Carr showed promise last year, but all three lack the “playmaker” ability that every MLS team needs at forward.
The difference between Blanco and the Fire’s other forwards cannot really be quantified though. There are no stats for that intangible ability to make the big plays in the big games. But it is worth noting that in his mere fourteen appearances last year, Blanco had two game winning goals and two game winning assists. If you take away those four plays, the Fire would have finished a point behind Columbus and missed the playoffs.
While Blanco tries to create confusion for defenses up front, Matt Pickens will likely be back in goal for the Fire after performing well last year. If he and the defense can smother opponents like last season, the rejuvenated Fire could be a dangerous team in the East.
Enjoy watching the Chicago Fire in person this season. Check out the availability on Chicago Fire tickets