After Big Breakthrough Season, Chicago Fire Bar Now Significantly Raised

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Last season, the 20th in the history of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, was a banner year as the Men in Red returned to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately, the ultimate result was the same as that appearance in ’12: one-and-done at home. The New York Red Bulls scored twice in the first 11 minutes, and it was pretty much all over before much of the Toyota Park crowd was even comfortably situated.

The very disappointing early exit was not a fitting end to a season that was defined by it’s many ups and downs. In April-June, the Chicago Fire were almost unstoppable. In mid-season, they were sitting atop just about any MLS Power Rankings you could find. 

chicago fire

However, during late summer/early fall, they were struggling to barely achieve any kind of result at all. It was a reversal of fortune that stunned almost all of us. The Major League Soccer season is certainly a marathon though, and#cf97 were able to get their groove back before the postseason.

The whole season in a nut shell was basically the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s standard “That’s Life.” All in all, the Fire’s 55 points were the fourth most in club history.

The late March acquisition of international superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger put the team back on the map and in the local landscape. The Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series was the biggest local sports news story of this generation. The next big major Chicago sports headline to come after that was the German midfielder and World Cup champion coming to the southwest side from Manchester United.

nelson rodriguez bastian schweinsteiger

After working through his adjustment period, Schweinsteiger had a fine season, and he rejuvenated the team’s brand and buzz. Then the club came together and started winning to back up and ultimately sustain the buzz. The team got back to the postseason, which was a fine goal realized.

Now what will they do for an encore?

The season begins at home Saturday versus Sporting KC, kickoff is 5pm.

I stopped by WGN-TV studios, to do a guest segment on CLTV Sports Feed with Jarrett Payton tonight. It was mostly to cover March Madness, but at the end we briefly discussed the Chicago Fire:

The Chicago Fire boast a nice 26-15-11 all-time regular season record against Sporting KC, and they have been especially impressive against Kansas City at home (18-4-2). The Chicago Fire are 10-5-5 all-time in home openers.

So you got to like their odds this weekend. Another person feeling confident about the Fire’s prospects this season is midfielder Drew Conner.

We referenced his appearance on Sports Feed the previous night, and you can watch that segment below:

Now, simply put, it’s about silverware. The Fire have won six significant trophies during their history, but none since 2006 (U.S. Open Cup). The 1998 MLS Cup and the 2003 Supporters Shield are arguably the two most glorious moments in the franchise’s history, but both are getting to be quite awhile ago now.

Schweinsteiger is back for another year and ready to lead this club to bigger and better things. Alongside him is Dax McCarty who doesn’t have the rock star status, but is probably the club’s most important, and in many senses the best, overall player. McCarty is really the engine that makes this club go, and overall the midfield is the strength of the team.

To provide scoring you have Nemanja Nikolic, who until the tail end of the season was on pace to break the MLS scoring record. He fell short, but had a very dominant season. Can he follow that up by matching or perhaps even exceeding that production?

dax mccarty

He’ll have to do so without the help of David Accam, who is the biggest name player to depart in the offseason.

Last year saw the fruits of the labors of GM Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic. Their plan is in place, and showed significant progress in 2017. Now we’ll see if there’s more progress, regress or just holding steady in 2018.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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