Fire fans should be seeing more winning celebrations than drawing indifference this season.
While 18 of the 19 MLS teams have played a competitive match in the first week of MLS action, we here at Hot Time in Old Town are still waiting for our chance to see our beloved team take the field in a game where regular season points are on the line. All of the fans and pundits have had a chance to write previews, predictions, post-game reports and analyses of their respective teams, but we are still looking at what may be for the Chicago Fire. Recently, a Twitter conversation occurred that sparked a little controversy over here and I'm going to take a look how last season ended compared with our offseason to dispel the ideas that Chicago will be pushovers.
The Chicago Fire were three different teams last season: The De Los Cobos Team, The Frank Klopas Adjustment Team, and the Post-Pardo/Grazzini Team.
The DLC Team played ten games with a 1-4-5 (W-L-D) record scoring 15 goals and allowing 19 goals. The Klopas Adjustment Team played nine games with a record of 1-2-6 scoring five goals and allowing six goals. The Post-Pardo/Grazzini era played 14 games with a record of 7-3-4 scoring 26 goals, 20 goals allowed and a total of nine games scoring more than two goals and four games with three goals scored. In the last 41% of the season (14 games of 34), the Fire managed to score 56.5% of their goals with Dominic Oduro scoring seven of his 12 goals. Pardo and Grazzini combined to notch six goals and nine assists.
This Post-Pardo/Grazzini Fire team that ended the season so strong returns a major part of its core line-up. Nine of their top 11 players in minutes played and 12 of the top 18 in minutes played will don Fire Red in 2012. Where players did not return, Chicago managed to improve at their positions. The club has upgraded its back up left back option signing Hunter Jumper and cutting Pari Pantazopolus, and, no disrespect to the players that are no longer with the club, but I'll trade Yamith Cuesta and Baggio Husidic for Arne Friedrich and Rafael Robayo ten times out of ten.
After watching the first weekend of games, it is clear to me that the East is there for the taking. As I have already previewed, New England, Columbus, and Philadelphia have hit the reset button and dropped key players or a large amount of current players. It is no coincidence that in the first weekend of play New England, Philadelphia, and Columbus played new, makeshift lineups that were easily exposed and dispatched by Western Conference foes. The same can be said for D.C., as they have many new players that will have some gelling to do. Kansas City and Houston needed late goals to defeat lesser opponents in the aforementioned D.C. United and Chivas USA respectively.
Granted, the Fire have been notoriously bad against the Western Conference for years. They might have had a difficult time against a Western Conference team too. However an unbalanced, intra-conference schedule only favors Chicago in the long run in the weaker East. De Los Cobos/Klopas Adjustment/Post-Pardo/Grazzini, it didn't matter last year. The Fire only lost the season series to Philadelphia last year throughout all the struggles.
Every team in the East outside of Columbus had at least 12 draws last year. The New York Red Bulls' 16 draws in 2011 tied the Chicago Fire for the MLS record in ties (how appropriate), yet their 'drawing power' is only seen as Thierry Henry. What the Chicago Fire needed to do to address their problems happened in July 2011. You may have been snoozing on this team for the past 8 months, but by the time you wake up, it will be too late. The Chicago Fire will be well on their way back to successful season.