James Bridget Gordon: So we've joked in recent days (privately) that the Fire haven't qualified for the playoffs in so long we've... forgotten what playoffs are.
Which got me thinking-- what exactly should success look like for the 2017 Fire? Is playoff qualification a reasonable expectation? Should we be content to finish Not Last? What about the USOC?
Ruben Tisch: Not last, the USOC final, and DJ Step playing Run the Jewels pregame.
Sean Spence: Brave men didn't die face down in the Vietnam mud so I would not style on you / I didn't walk uphill both ways to the booth and back to not wild on you / you think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I'd whisper? / meanwhile, you're safe and sound, but these crooks tap your phones and not have a file on you?
Which is my way of saying, a huge yes to Run the Jewels.
I don't think simply finishing not last is good enough in 2017. If this squad is not in the mix for the playoffs in the final month, expect to see still more desertions of loyal fans.
So for me it's like this: in the mix for the playoffs, a run deep in the Open Cup, and some Run the Jewels in the mix. Winning the Open Cup would allow me to forgive falling short in the regular season - I could see the relative lack of depth bite us over a long campaign.
Mike Tooley: In my opinion, success would be making it into MLS playoffs. Winning USOC or making a run to semifinals would be nice but - after years of failure in MLS - I think reaching the playoffs needs to be the priority. Format is unchanged this year - six out of the 11 teams in the East will make it so I don't think it is a lot to ask.
Sean: I do see some value in the argument that the talent level in the league is rising rapidly - the extra TAM has inflated each team's salary budget, and the willingness of some ownership groups to finance DPs making really crazy money adds top-level talent at a rate that otherwise simply wouldn't happen. So it's possible that the Fire improve a great deal, but still see a significant gap between themselves and teams at the top of the league.
Ruben: I don't pay attention to the table until June first, so I couldn't care less about Ws and Ls. I want to see good soccer. I want good defensive shape, and them to trust each other. I want them to trust that the covering defender will be there when they go close out a shooter, so they can close with confidence. I want good crisp passing from midfield. And I want shots on goal. Lots of shots on goal.
Jack Kelly: For me, a solid season includes the following: an MLS playoff appearance, a USOC final appearance (and to be honest winning the final) and not falling into the constant pattern of being too worried about conceding and forget about scoring. I think that with the signings that were made, as well as the players that were retained, the Fire have a more than capable squad of doing these things. Plus, once the are in the playoffs, I fully expect them to win.
On paper we they have one of the better attacking squads in the league, and, well, goals generally mean some sort of silverware. Am I setting the bar a little high? Sure. I just feel as if there need to be high expectations in order to avoid another wooden spoon.
John Carollo III: As Dax said, it takes commitment to suck to not make the playoffs in so long. So I'll say success is our "dynamic goal". "Dynamic" meaning that we can honestly lower the bar for ourselves in case of the Eastern Conference suddenly exploding in hidden talent.
In order to really look at it squarely, you need to also decide who won't make the playoffs (in order for the Fire to make them). There are 6 playoff spots and 11 teams in the EC. That means 5 teams won't make it.
James: <whips out calculator> Yup, the math checks out.
John: My guestimate 5 (not including the Fire, so they make it) is: Atlanta, New England, Philly, Columbus, DC. I think that the goal should be to be as good as DC was last season.
Mike: I agree with Sean that the talent level is rising. There have been a lot of solid signings by MLS teams, so sure, I could see the Fire getting better but still quite off the pace of the teams at the top. I am not expecting them to win the East or Supporters Shield, that would be too big a jump. Making the playoffs should be the goal every year and that gets magnified when you miss out for several seasons. But can they finish 6th out of 11, I think so.
Ruben: I don't think the Revs are really very good. Their back 4 are suspect, and the plastic pitch is the worst in the league.
Mike: I have Revs out as well.
Brian Bottei: New England is in trouble. Columbus is, too.
John: As I said, being better than previous years isn't that much of consistent marker as we've been so terrible, we are likely to get a dead cat bounce in the standings. And judging our team's talent over previous talent doesn't give us a good indication of playoff possibilities. Instead we need to look at other teams and decide which teams we're better than, which teams are we equal to, and which will we totally be fighting uphill against.
We look to be better than: New England, Columbus, Philly, Montreal. We look equal to: Atlanta, DC, Orlando. Out of our league: NYRB, NYCFC, Toronto.
James: Let's flip this around: what would failure look like? Because at this point, finishing last along with a quarterfinal or semifinal run in the Cup is the status quo. How bad would things have to get this season for there to be real discontent?
John: Losing to a lower league team in the USOC and breaking the points record. That's all I can think of.
James: Ok but plenty of teams in recent years go into the season with low expectations and end up rolling the conference for lunch money. Does the "we have to be better than Columbus and Montreal" metric hold up if they end up having stronger-than-expected campaigns?
I'm just not sure pinning our definition of success as relative to specific teams is the way to go.
Mike: Yea, it is tough to do that because we don't know who will finish where. It is just speculation which is why I think making or missing the playoffs is a good and simple measurement of success. What I do know is that finishing last again would not be acceptable... even if they won USOC at the same time.
John: That's why I said it's kind of a dynamic goal. If a team plays over their head, our goal should adjust for that, but my range from preseason looks says we should be in the 5-7 range.
Brian: I want the team to play tangibly better soccer this year than last.
Seeing as we have a completely reconstructed midfield, I think that is going to happen. Playing better leads to better results. Better results lead to playoffs. If we play better than last year? That's all I can really ask for right now. That SHOULD coincide with a playoff appearance.
Basically, I just want the team to take more shots than they did last year and give up fewer shots than they did last year.
And while I will be disappointed if that does not lead to a playoff appearance, there's too many other factors to just say "playoffs or bust." Do I like the moves the FO has made? Yes. I think we've done a lot better than some other teams. I’m also nowhere near as high on Atlanta as everyone else.
James: I feel like the season opener is really crucial. It'd be a big deal anyway, because Columbus, but I feel like this one is a barometer test. I don't usually say that about opening weekend.
This isn't entirely rational, I'll admit, but I feel like if we can't beat a vulnerable Columbus side with this rebuilt squad it'll set a bad tone
Brian: It may be Columbus, but it is still a one-off.
The whole team is still going to need time to learn how to play with each other. Barring any incredible outliers, I'm not going to start freaking out about any sub-par play until the end of April.
Sean: It's hard not to worry if the first result is bad - just look at last year: The team really seemed shaken by the way NYC carved them up in the opener
James: Holy s--t I had completely blocked that out of my memory. THANKS A LOT SEAN
John: I didn't see too much to be pessimistic about in the opener, maybe because I'm a strong believer in a "It doesn't matter how much they score as long as you score more" mentality. I believed that the fact we scored three showed some good stuff and we just needed to adjust some things in the back (ie. start J-Camp and Sean John). It was Pauno who got scared sh*t-less.
James: I see where you're coming from but I'm not sure I agree. I'm a big believer in the psychological power of scoring (and conceding goals). I think Manchester City beating Monaco 5-3 earlier today is materially different from winning 2-0. (Away goals notwithstanding.)
Yeah, they scored a bunch and won the game but they shipped three and had to come from behind. They're gonna be shook heading into the second leg.
James: Alright, last thing before we wrap it up - the Red Stars announced their first two games of the season. April 15th = away at Houston, April 22nd = home opener vs FC Kansas City. WHO'S HYPE
Sean: aaWOOOOAAaaaaaWOOOOOOOOOAaaaaa RED DAWN no wait RED REDEMPTION too close to the videogame RED RESURGENCE RED UH RED SOME OTHER STUFF
James: RED FIVE STANDING BY
Sandra Herrera: I'm so hyped that I can't wait to get the rest of the actual NWSL schedule. (Anytime here, homies!)
Sean: I'm excited to see how Red Stars try to play this year, and just generally to see the Red Stars play this year.
John: DON'T STOP LIVING IN THE RED! RED LEADER DO YOU READ?
I love the Red Stars.
Jack: I don't know a thing about the Red Stars besides that their kits are dope.
Sandra: Much of last year's roster is returning for this season, so there is much to be optimistic about. Third time is a charm, so hopefully this is the year they can break through the semi-final and bring home the ‘ship.
Also - considering next year is looking like an expansion year - this season, this team, could be particularly special.
Also also? the Red Stars are a better soccer team than the Fire. There. I said it.