There’s no question the Chicago Fire have been one of the more active teams in the off season. We are bearing witness to Frank Yallop’s retooling and rebuilding year. The team that steps out onto the field in 2015 will be his team.
Yallop has brought 10 new players into the fold, closing strong by signing Designated Player Shaun Maloney a week ago. This is the first time in Fire history that all three DP spots have been filled; it's especially surprising to see it all done before the season begins. Please note that it’s not uncommon for teams to keep that last DP spot for the summer transfer window, in case mid-season reinforcements are needed - but Yallop wanted to get the Maloney deal done at once, and having the former Celtic and Wigan midfielder in camp from the beginning will prove vital for the player’s smooth incorporation into the squad.
Not just stars - depth, too
Yallop also secured the return of big man John Busch as secondary goalkeeper, making room by dealing 2014 backup keeper Kyle Reynish back to New York, this time to Red Bulls. He brought in Eric Gehrig in a draft-day deal, inked Michael Stephens from Stabaek, and picked one player in each line from the SuperDraft.
All this newly acquired depth - including four new defenders and four attacking players - will be paired together with the talent of Quincy Amarikwa and Harry Shipp in the second team. Under Yallop’s projected 4-3-3, Shipp and Amarikwa could be the first players off the bench, while the new bloods will most likely take the starting roles. (Please see some of our projected starting XIs and scenarios here). This roster's improved depth can give us differing possible line ups for the MLS Cup campaign and the US Open Cup.
Yallop has said time and again that making the MLS Cup playoffs is the goal of 2015. I agree that getting back to the post season after missing out four-of-five years is an area of focus. But we know that the MLS league play is a marathon, and now that the field for the 2015 playoffs are being expanded to 12 total teams, the Fire don’t need to blow other teams away during the regular season. Staying above the red line with smart play and direct tactics will get the job done.
Better depth should mean Cup run
Where Chicago do need to show off their firepower is in the US Open Cup Tournament. The March Madness-style "win-or-go-home" tournament arguably means more to the fans of the Chicago Fire than making the MLS Cup playoff. Regaining the title "Kings of the Cup" with a fifth US Open Cup win in 2015 is on a lot of fans’ wish lists for the new season, and I believe that the Fire can do it.
But they have to be serious about the tournament, and show it the respect it deserves by putting out aggressive lineups and winning games with authority to make their presence known in the tournament. Last year’s 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Seattle Sounders, who would go on and win the tournament (and thereby tie the Fire with four US Open Cup titles), did anything but show our commitment to the tournament.
The Fire’s offensive depth could allow for squad rotation from the MLS league play to the US Open Cup, and still put out a fast, offensive and goal scoring personnel. If sticking with a 4-3-3, having speedsters Quincy Amarikwa and David Accam on the forward wings with Kennedy Igboananike up top and inserting Shipp in the center could still make for a deadly attack. Shaun Maloney will need rest, and Yallop will need to watch the Scot's minutes. Stephens, Matt Watson, Chris Ritter, even Alex could round out the midfield, and the technical ability of the players on the field would still be sufficient to deliver us into the late stages of the tournament.
Frank Yallop shouldn't set his cap solely on making the MLS Cup playoffs in 2015, because merely making the playoffs isn't enough. The Fire - and just as importantly Yallop - need a cup win. If the Men in Red don't a real case for lifting the 2015 US Open Cup, my inclination is that that Chicago Fire brass find a new coach who will.