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 of forward a tradeDominic 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.
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?
|2012||New York Red Bulls||57||46||11||1.68||1.35||0.32||57||1.68|
|2011||New York Red Bulls||50||44||6||1.47||1.29||0.18||46||1.35|
|2009||Real Salt Lake||43||35||8||1.43||1.17||0.27||40||1.33|
|2008||New York Red Bulls||42||48||-6||1.40||1.60||-0.20||39||1.30|
|2012||Real Salt Lake||46||35||11||1.35||1.03||0.32||57||1.68|
|2008||Real Salt Lake||40||39||1||1.33||1.30||0.03||40||1.33|
|2011||Real Salt Lake||44||36||8||1.29||1.06||0.24||53||1.56|
|2010||New York Red Bulls||38||29||9||1.27||0.97||0.30||51||1.70|
|2012||Sporting Kansas City||42||27||15||1.24||0.79||0.44||63||1.85|
|2008||Sporting Kansas City||37||39||-2||1.23||1.30||-0.07||42||1.40|
|2009||San Jose Earthquakes||36||50||-14||1.20||1.67||-0.47||30||1.00|
|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|
|2012||New England Revolution||39||44||-5||1.15||1.29||-0.15||35||1.03|
|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|
|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|
|2009||New York Red Bulls||27||47||-20||0.90||1.57||-0.67||21||0.70|
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.