The 1998 Chicago Fire were certainly one of the best MLS teams ever, and I apologize for leaving them off my original list. Winning both the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup is a rare accomplishment, and doing it in your inaugural season is even more impressive.
Though they finished third in the race for the Supporters Shield, they deserve this recognition.
The team’s immediate impact on the US soccer scene is attributable to the vision and leadership of founding General Manager and long time club President, Peter Wilt. Wilt is one of the central figures in US soccer even today as Prez and CEO of the new Chicago Red Stars of WPS, but he has been pushing the sport’s popularity forward here in the US for over twenty years now.
Wilt’s biggest accomplishment must be remembered as his creation of the Fire into a contender in their first season. Wilt brought in a diverse group of players to take the pitch for the first Fire, including Polish stars Piotr Nowak (12 assists), Jerzy Podronzy (6 goals, 14 assists), Roman Kosecki (9 goals, 9 assists) and Czech mate Lubos Kubik (4 game winning goals).
Americans Ante Razov (10 goals, 9 assists), Chris Armas (10 assists) and Josh Wolff (8 goals) also played large roles. The stingy defense (2nd overall) and the stellar play of Zach Thornton were perhaps the biggest reasons for the Fire’s instant success, especially ZT, who led all MLS keepers with a 1.17 GAA and 8 clean sheets. They were also expertly coached by current US National Team manager Bob Bradley, who rightfully earned that year’s Coach of the Year Award.
So, I hope I have made amends for leaving the 1998 Fire off my initial list of the Top 10 teams in MLS history. After reconsideration, I think they should have been higher up, perhaps even a top 5 team. It’s hard to make these lists, as anyone who has ever attempted to do so can attest. I should have put the Fire in, and I was burned in the comments for it. So, that was my redemption shot, and I hope Fire fans’ hard feelings have been quelled.