Where we're at now?
So, that was an interesting offseason.
After back-to-back disastrous seasons, the Fire spent most of the fall and winter burning down the house. Gone are former head coach Frank Yallop and the rest of his staff; as well as homegrown star Harry Shipp, former MVP Mike Magee, team captain Jeff Larentowicz and a handful of other players. Instead, new General Manager Nelson Rodriguez and Head Coach Veljko Paunovic have brought in a mix of young talent and European veterans to mix in with what's left of last season's roster.
Yet with all the turnover, there seems to be a glimmer of hope shinning through from the wreckage left from the Yallop regime. Part of that is surely helped with an undefeated preseason, where the Fire outscored their MLS/NASL opponents 13-4, including a win over the defending MLS Cup Champions, Portland Timbers.
Naturally, preseason results are utterly meaningless (Can you even remember how the the Men in Red did in the 2015 preseason?), but it gave fans a chance the club show some sort of identity as Pauno played around with a few tactics alignments.
But for all the preseason hooplah and optimism, reality sets in on Sunday afternoon as the Fire hosts NYCFC at 1 p.m., with the the broadcast on CSN Chicago. The lingering anxiety and anger from season's past cannot be cleansed with a single win, but the Fire can go a long way toward that with an impressive showing at Toyota Park.
Like the Chicago Fire, New York City FC had their own tumultuous offseason. They sacked Jason Kreis shortly after their disappointment of an inaugural season, replacing his with French legend Patrick Vieira. The former head of the Manchester City youth squad (and potential leader of the senior squad), Vieira inherited a squad with three big name Designated Players of varying ability and health – on top of one of the worst defenses in all of the league. One year after giving up a league high 58 goals in 2015 (if that number sounds familiar, it's the same number of goals the Chicago Fire gave up last season), the squad enters the new season with a completely new back line and goalkeeper.
Those changes look like a positive turn in the early going, as NYCFC gave up only three goals in six preseason matches – though only the match against a Didier Drogba-less Montreal Impact side was against an MLS squad. The strength of the club remains the midfield, with Vieira continuing the possession-focused 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 through the preseason. The preseason has shown what will be the team's blueprint this season, with the midfield keeping possession and pushing forward to feed Spaniard David Villa and the rest of the forwards.
Speaking of Designated Players, NYCFC is expected to once again be without Frank Lampard on Sunday. A year after appearing in only 10 matches after his midseason arrival due to various injuries, Vieira has said Lampard is unlikely to play in Sunday's match as he recovers from a calf strain. The other designated player, Andrea Pirlo, has looked more comfortable during his first preseason with the team, distributing passes like only the Italian legend can do.
One thing Pirlo is not so magical at is going back to defend, which a speedy Chicago Fire team that has shown a new affinity for pressing opponents and pushing the attack forward can likely take advantage of Sunday. As well as that, this should be the first real test for the brand new NYCFC back four.
Betting Line and Predictions
Betbrain.com has the probabilities as follows: Chicago Fire at 44 percent to win, with a 28 percent chance of a draw or a NYCFC win.
While we can speculate to our giddy's hearts content, it is tough to get a full picture on the quality of either team until we get into the season. Both teams have looked good through the preseason, but the regular season is a whole different beast.
Since Vegas is magical and knows it all, I'm going to give the slight edge to the Fire on Sunday, predicting a 3-1 win to cool off some of those Fire fan's anxieties and begin the Pauno era in the positive direction.