Potential Chicago Fire Goal Shortage in 2013

Drew Hallowell

The Chicago Fire may not have enough goal scorers on the current roster in order to make it to the MLS playoffs in 2013

The Chicago Fire have all but officially announced a trade of forward Dominic Oduro to the Columbus Crew for midfielder Dilly Duka (and the MLS rights of Robbie Rogers). With the move, Chicago sent out their leading goal scorer between 2011-2012 for a midfielder who has 2 goals and 5 assists in 2,632 minutes over 3 seasons of play. Even in college, Duka was not a profilic goal scorer. He only scored 10 goals in 36 games. Patrick Nyarko scored 31 goals in 57 games at Virginia Tech and he only has 11 goals in 130 MLS games. The Nyarko and Duka comparison is not perfect but it does provide a good perspective on the college game versus the MLS game. Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas would be taking a big gamble if he thinks that by acquiring Dilly Duka and trading away Dominic Oduro, the Fire would boost or maintain their goal total going into 2013.

This is quite a big problem because the Fire have seen their recent leading goal scorers leave the team en masse.

Player Minutes Goals Assists G/90 A/90
Marco Pappa 8431 26 16 0.28 0.17
Chris Rolfe 5574 23 12 0.37 0.19
Brian McBride 4499 18 7 0.36 0.14
Dominic Oduro 4427 18 5 0.37 0.10
Cuauhtemoc Blanco 3850 12 19 0.28 0.44
Patrick Nyarko 9232 11 28 0.11 0.27

bold indicates player active on Chicago Fire roster

The above chart is the 6 players that have contributed 10 or more goals to the Chicago Fire between 2008-2012. Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brian McBride are obviously long-gone. The fact that they are so high on this chart (think of the dozens of players that didn't even qualify to make it here) demonstrates the carousel of Chicago Fire strikers during this period. Chris Rolfe is in 2nd place in goals scored and he was away from the team between 2010 and the early part of 2012. Patrick Nyarko is on this chart almost out of pure endurance. His 11 goals across over 9,000 minutes give him a significantly lower goals per 90 minutes rate than any of his current or former teammates here. Pappa left the team in late 2012.

That leaves Nyarko and Rolfe as the only two Fire players that have enjoyed long-standing goal scoring success with the club going into the 2013 season. Sporting KC has C.J. Sapong and Graham Zusi. D.C. United has Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario. New York Red Bulls have Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. The Houston Dynamo have Will Bruin and Brad Davis. In my opinion, Chicago's duo for offensive stability takes a back seat to each of the combos from the other Eastern Conference leaders.

With Dominic Oduro, you could boost the argument that Chicago's offensive stability was relatively as strong. The third wheel for Sporting KC is Teal Bunbury, D.C.'s is Nick DeLeon, New York's is Dax McCarty, Houston's is Brian Ching. Rolfe, Nyarko, and Oduro are still lacking in some ways but it becomes a fairer fight for the Fire.

I'll be the first to admit that turning rosters into NBA Jam like segments is a debate best left for the type of programming that allows ESPN to be a 24 hour network. An interesting picture has been provided. The starting blocks of ammunition in an arms race has been presented but not the full chart. Above average generals deploy their offensive and defensive weapons when needed. Using a certain style of play can negate giving up a large number of goals in one area and it can raise the number of goals that come from another. I'll dig into that later but first: just how many goals do the Chicago Fire need to score in 2013 to have a very good shot at making the playoffs?

Year Team GF GA GD GFPG GAPG GDPG PTS PPG
2012 San Jose Earthquakes 72 43 29 2.12 1.26 0.85 66 1.94
2008 LA Galaxy 55 62 -7 1.83 2.07 -0.23 33 1.10
2012 LA Galaxy 59 47 12 1.74 1.38 0.35 54 1.59
2012 New York Red Bulls 57 46 11 1.68 1.35 0.32 57 1.68
2008 Columbus Crew 50 36 14 1.67 1.20 0.47 57 1.90
2009 FC Dallas 50 47 3 1.67 1.57 0.10 39 1.30
2011 Seattle Sounders 56 37 19 1.65 1.09 0.56 63 1.85
2012 D.C. United 53 43 10 1.56 1.26 0.29 58 1.71
2012 Seattle Sounders 51 33 18 1.50 0.97 0.53 56 1.65
2008 Houston Dynamo 45 32 13 1.50 1.07 0.43 51 1.70
2008 FC Dallas 45 41 4 1.50 1.37 0.13 36 1.20
2010 Real Salt Lake 45 20 25 1.50 0.67 0.83 56 1.87
2011 Sporting Kansas City 50 40 10 1.47 1.18 0.29 51 1.50
2011 New York Red Bulls 50 44 6 1.47 1.29 0.18 46 1.35
2008 Colorado Rapids 44 45 -1 1.47 1.50 -0.03 38 1.27
2008 Chicago Fire 44 33 11 1.47 1.10 0.37 46 1.53
2010 LA Galaxy 44 26 18 1.47 0.87 0.60 59 1.97
2010 Colorado Rapids 44 32 12 1.47 1.07 0.40 46 1.53
2011 D.C. United 49 52 -3 1.44 1.53 -0.09 39 1.15
2008 D.C. United 43 51 -8 1.43 1.70 -0.27 37 1.23
2009 Real Salt Lake 43 35 8 1.43 1.17 0.27 40 1.33
2009 D.C. United 43 44 -1 1.43 1.47 -0.03 40 1.33
2011 LA Galaxy 48 28 20 1.41 0.82 0.59 67 1.97
2012 Houston Dynamo 48 41 7 1.41 1.21 0.21 53 1.56
2008 New York Red Bulls 42 48 -6 1.40 1.60 -0.20 39 1.30
2009 Colorado Rapids 42 38 4 1.40 1.27 0.13 40 1.33
2010 FC Dallas 42 28 14 1.40 0.93 0.47 50 1.67
2009 Columbus Crew 41 31 10 1.37 1.03 0.33 49 1.63
2011 Chicago Fire 46 45 1 1.35 1.32 0.03 43 1.26
2012 Real Salt Lake 46 35 11 1.35 1.03 0.32 57 1.68
2012 Chicago Fire 46 41 5 1.35 1.21 0.15 57 1.68
2008 Real Salt Lake 40 39 1 1.33 1.30 0.03 40 1.33
2008 New England Revolution 40 43 -3 1.33 1.43 -0.10 43 1.43
2008 Chivas USA 40 41 -1 1.33 1.37 -0.03 43 1.43
2010 Houston Dynamo 40 49 -9 1.33 1.63 -0.30 33 1.10
2010 Columbus Crew 40 34 6 1.33 1.13 0.20 50 1.67
2011 Houston Dynamo 45 41 4 1.32 1.21 0.12 49 1.44
2012 Montreal Impact 45 51 -6 1.32 1.50 -0.18 42 1.24
2009 Houston Dynamo 39 29 10 1.30 0.97 0.33 48 1.60
2009 Chicago Fire 39 34 5 1.30 1.13 0.17 45 1.50
2010 Seattle Sounders 39 35 4 1.30 1.17 0.13 48 1.60
2011 Real Salt Lake 44 36 8 1.29 1.06 0.24 53 1.56
2011 Philadelphia Union 44 36 8 1.29 1.06 0.24 48 1.41
2011 Colorado Rapids 44 41 3 1.29 1.21 0.09 49 1.44
2012 Columbus Crew 44 44 0 1.29 1.29 0.00 52 1.53
2012 Colorado Rapids 44 50 -6 1.29 1.47 -0.18 37 1.09
2009 Seattle Sounders 38 29 9 1.27 0.97 0.30 47 1.57
2010 New York Red Bulls 38 29 9 1.27 0.97 0.30 51 1.70
2011 Columbus Crew 43 44 -1 1.26 1.29 -0.03 47 1.38
2011 FC Dallas 42 39 3 1.24 1.15 0.09 52 1.53
2012 Sporting Kansas City 42 27 15 1.24 0.79 0.44 63 1.85
2012 FC Dallas 42 47 -5 1.24 1.38 -0.15 39 1.15
2008 Sporting Kansas City 37 39 -2 1.23 1.30 -0.07 42 1.40
2009 Toronto FC 37 46 -9 1.23 1.53 -0.30 39 1.30
2010 Chicago Fire 37 38 -1 1.23 1.27 -0.03 36 1.20
2011 Chivas USA 41 43 -2 1.21 1.26 -0.06 36 1.06
2009 San Jose Earthquakes 36 50 -14 1.20 1.67 -0.47 30 1.00
2009 LA Galaxy 36 31 5 1.20 1.03 0.17 48 1.60
2010 Sporting Kansas City 36 35 1 1.20 1.17 0.03 39 1.30
2011 San Jose Earthquakes 40 45 -5 1.18 1.32 -0.15 38 1.12
2011 Portland Timbers 40 48 -8 1.18 1.41 -0.24 42 1.24
2010 Philadelphia Union 35 49 -14 1.17 1.63 -0.47 31 1.03
2012 New England Revolution 39 44 -5 1.15 1.29 -0.15 35 1.03
2008 Toronto FC 34 43 -9 1.13 1.43 -0.30 35 1.17
2009 Chivas USA 34 31 3 1.13 1.03 0.10 45 1.50
2010 San Jose Earthquakes 34 33 1 1.13 1.10 0.03 46 1.53
2011 New England Revolution 38 58 -20 1.12 1.71 -0.59 28 0.82
2009 Sporting Kansas City 33 42 -9 1.10 1.40 -0.30 33 1.10
2009 New England Revolution 33 37 -4 1.10 1.23 -0.13 42 1.40
2010 Toronto FC 33 41 -8 1.10 1.37 -0.27 35 1.17
2012 Philadelphia Union 37 45 -8 1.09 1.32 -0.24 36 1.06
2008 San Jose Earthquakes 32 38 -6 1.07 1.27 -0.20 33 1.10
2010 New England Revolution 32 50 -18 1.07 1.67 -0.60 32 1.07
2011 Toronto FC 36 59 -23 1.06 1.74 -0.68 33 0.97
2012 Toronto FC 36 62 -26 1.06 1.82 -0.76 23 0.68
2010 Chivas USA 31 45 -14 1.03 1.50 -0.47 28 0.93
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps 35 55 -20 1.03 1.62 -0.59 28 0.82
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps 35 41 -6 1.03 1.21 -0.18 43 1.26
2012 Portland Timbers 34 56 -22 1.00 1.65 -0.65 34 1.00
2009 New York Red Bulls 27 47 -20 0.90 1.57 -0.67 21 0.70
2012 Chivas USA 24 58 -34 0.71 1.71 -1.00 30 0.88
2010 D.C. United 21 47 -26 0.70 1.57 -0.87 22 0.73

bold indicates qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs in respective year

Taking a look at this chart, we see that the halfway mark of the 82 squads between 2008-2012 is 1.30 goals per game. The 2009 Houston Dynamo, 2009 Chicago Fire, and 2010 Seattle Sounders all made the playoffs with 1.30 goals per game. Three teams qualified for the playoffs in 2011 with 1.29 goals per game but two teams with 1.29 goals per game in 2012 did not. Only 3 teams that averaged more than 1.32 goals per game and maintained a positive goal differential missed the playoffs in this time span. I have strong faith in the Chicago Fire defense at least maintaining its 1.21 goals against per game average. With all of that said, I'm confident the Fire will make the playoffs if they score 45 goals this year.

How can the Fire get there? Let's start by taking a look at the two main targets on the squad: Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe. The just turned 30 year-old Rolfe has already been discussed. He maintains 0.37 goals per 90 minutes in MLS regular season games since 2008. Last year he maintained 0.41 goals per 90 minutes. Let's be generous and assume that rate goes up to 0.45 goals per 90 minutes. Next you have to consider how many minutes Rolfe typically plays in a season. Rolfe gets hurt. It happens every year. He also needs to be subbed out from time to time like all forwards. I added up the percentage of minutes Rolfe has played every MLS season and it averages out to about 64% of the eligible minutes he could have played. The most a person should realistically hope to get out of Rolfe in 2013 is 2,000 minutes. If Rolfe improves to 0.45 goals per 90 minutes for 2013, he'll be right at 10 goals. Could Rolfe play more minutes and score more goals? He sure could. He could also play more minutes and score less goals and all sorts of other combinations. Every single goal that is over 10 total for Rolfe in 2013 makes your 2013 projection that much rosier.

Next we have Sherjill MacDonald. Most lineup projections have him as the only forward in the lineup. Given that Chicago only has 3 MLS reliable forwards on the roster right now (Rolfe, MacDonald, and Maicon Santos), that certainly makes the most sense. We'll at least see MacDonald start at forward and Rolfe occasionally play out on the wing. MacDonald will not feature on the wing. The 28 year-old Dutch striker scored 4 goals in 1033 minutes last year. That's good enough for a 0.35 goals per 90 minutes average. MacDonald has shown to be very reliable and even went 90 minutes on a several occasions last year. Can he put in 2,813 minutes or 2,672 minutes like fellow target forward Chris Wondolowski did in 2012 and 2011 respectively? Let's hope for the sake of Chicago he can and we'll split the difference between Wondolowski's minutes totals in 2011 and 2012 in the meanwhile. Given all of this, MacDonald's expected goal total is rounded up to 11 goals.

You might assume that the Dutchman could improve upon that total of 11 goals in his second and first full MLS season. That would be dangerous in my opinion. MacDonald came to the Fire having scored 7 goals and tallying 7 assists in his previous season for the Belgian soccer club Beerschot. He has never been a big goal scorer and his teammates praise him for his passing ability. Excellent attributes for a forward to have. I'm not sure if this is the optimal setting for him to be doing that in given the lack of targets.

After Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald, the Fire still have 24 goals to manage before this team even scrapes into the playoffs. We'll look at those numbers and see if they can do that on the averages in the next part of this series.

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