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Hopeful or Hopeless? An early look at the Fire offseason

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Should Fire fans be optimistic or pessimistic heading into the offseason?

Veljko Paunovic gives a thumbs up to the camera.
In The Process We Trust? Has Veljko Paunovic begun to right the ship?
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, the Fire have been bad. There’s no way around it. There have been times that we thought we’d get better, but we didn’t. There seemed to be some sort of consensus that we were bad and will continue to be bad until changes arise. Well, that change has come but the future still seems uncertain.

We’re at a point in the season where the Fire is a massive statistical long shot to make the playoffs and it doesn’t look like they can dig their way out in time. While that is a frustrating and disappointing reality, there still may be reason to hope for a better future.

As we start to look to the offseason, it’s difficult to tell if it will finally be one that begins to fulfill our long hopeful desires or lead to more protests and petitions. I’m still on the fence about which way it will play out. So let’s look at a point/counterpoint to see whether optimsim is justified come December.

Point for Optimism: Youth

The Fire is a pretty young club. The average age is about 26 and on most given days the lineup usually reflects that. The Fire has players that can contribute for years to come in Jonathan Campbell and Matt Polster and players that can continue to develop such as Joey Calistri and Brandon Vincent. Veljko Paunovic is known for being good with the kids (check his only season on the resume; a U-20s World Cup win with Serbia) and the club has reportedly hired former Paris Saint-Germain veteran staff member Cedric Cattenoy to lead the academy and help bring people up in the system. If the Fire can continue to develop these players and other new additions, the future looks pretty bright.

Rebuttal:

While it is true that Chicago is a young team, remember there is a history of trading away young players before they are fully developed. Some big young players that could’ve been utilized further who were, in my opinion, foolishly traded away, include names like Austin Berry, Benji Joya, and most recently, Harry Shipp. These guys all had the potential to develop into great players in Chicago.

Currently, longtime academy prospect Collin Fernandez continues to to fail to crack the senior team.

There needs to be a mix of youth and veteran experience and Chicago hasn’t seemed to find the right combination yet. The importance of a great system churning out new talent cannot be overstated. Look no further than FC Dallas to see what Chicago should try to build.

Point for Optimism: DP slots

Oh, the opportunity in Designated Player slots. With Gilberto on Vasco de Gama and Kennedy Igboananike out in D.C., the Fire is going into the offseason with two open DP slots waiting to be filled. If the team shows enough ambition, they have an opportunity to pick up a great, big-name guy from Europe who can help out where it is needed most: a clinical finisher up top or a facilitator in the central midfield.

Or maybe the team opts for an up-and-coming young DP from Argentina like Dallas. The possibilities are endless and with two open slots, we should be excited no matter what.

Rebuttal

The history of Designated Players in Chicago is a long and very sad. There is not much reason to have confidence in the team’s ability to get a better one. While David Accam is flirting with becoming the greatest Designated Player in Fire history - having scored a record 18 goals for a Chicago DP - his only real competition for the title is the great Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Those are literally the only two DPs in club history worth noting.

From Freddie Ljungberg’s signing in 2010 to Juan Luis Anangono in 2013, a total of six DPs came and went, combining to score six total goals between them. Those stints were followed by the completely disasterous runs of Shaun Maloney and Gilberto. To say the least, things have not gone well on the Designated Player front and it’s hard to blame fans for viewing future DP signings with a pessimistic eye.

Point for Optimism: Coaching

Paunovic could be a genius. We just don’t know yet. What we do know is he took the worst defense in the league (maybe in history) last year and turned them into a very solid unit, more or less a wall at home. The team looks better now than they did in the beginning of the year, so that sign of growth is positive, and he already has a win on the road, a herculean feat for this team.

He’s made sure that the team has a strong knowledge of what to do situationally and makes sure to keep the opponents on their toes by changing up lineups and tactics every game. Though he’s already had a chance here, he can use this offseason to bolster the team even more in the offseason. All we need is patience.

Rebuttal:

Sean Johnson. Paunovic risked a whole lot by taking him out in the beginning of the season. This season so far, Johnson has a 29% win percentage versus Matt Lampson’s 9%. Not to mention Lampson has a higher losing percentage (54% for him, the Milkman has a 41%). Those kind of personnel decisions could be seen as worrying and it is still unclear how Paunovic will handle the roster moving forward.

The other coaching issue came with balance. While Paunovic was doing great things with the defense, the offense was so lacking that it didn’t score more than one goal a game for almost 14 weeks. And the defense still isn’t completely fixed. There is still more work to be done. Patience is running low after 6 years.

This can go on and on, but I’ll stop it here so that you guys can add a bit more into the conversation. These are just three major issues that have been debated throughout the season and should be debated until there is a definitive answer.

So will next year be the year the tide finally turns or will that light at the end of the tunnel just be another train? I’d like to know what you guys think, so comment down below to voice your opinion on the topic.