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#cf97 March Madness

This week we take a look at the Fire’s 2017 offseason by pitting the players against one another, NCAA-style

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Fire20, our weekly series on deep dives in the history of the Chicago Fire, is taking the week off. Instead, we’re doing something a little different to mark the start of March Madness.

Come one! Come all! Welcome to the most magical time of the year! March is upon us, and that means one thing: March Madness. But I’m not talking about basketball, no, I’m talking about the Fire. In today’s rendition of Fire20, we are going to jump ahead to the present day and celebrate the fact that the Fire actually had a decent off season. So, today, we are going to pit the top 16 Fire players against one another in a single elimination tournament (sound familiar?).

Before we begin, I should leave you with one disclaimer: the seeds for these players were assigned by me. I fully encourage you all to debate and disagree with me in the comments below, this is what makes this kind of thing fun. Also, I am approaching this from the perspective of who is going to best most important to the Fire this season, not from things in the past. Anyways, let’s get started.

Sweet 16

#1 Juninho over #16 Collin Fernandez

The #1 seed has never been upset in the history of the actual NCAA tournament, and, well, the same goes here. The Brazilian simply has too much experience to be out done by the Fire young buck. However, Fernandez will have his shot—he’s got a long career ahead of him. Today though, Juninho wins out.

#8 Jorge Bava over #9 Matt Polster

The experienced Uruguayan goalkeeper has already proven to be extremely important to the Chicago Fire, coming up with several big saves for the Men in Red in their first two matches of the season. Polster, though, has yet to contribute anything. Now, we can’t fault him for being injured, but finding him a spot in this team is going to be tough with McCarty and Juninho on the roster. Bava will be one of the first names on the team-sheet this year, and that earns him a spot in the Elite Eight.

#4 David Accam over #13 Bradon Vincent.

Not too much to say in this one besides, “King David.”

#5 Michael de Leeuw over #12 Matt Lampson

Sheesh, these matchups don’t favor the lower seeds. Basically, Lampson is going to be the cup keeper this year, and MDL could realistically start every game. Also, in this week’s roundtable I picked the Lion as my captain. Captain trumps keeper in this instance.

#2 Nemanja Nikolic over #15 David Arshakyan

The Hungarian striker beats out his Armenian counterpart. Again, this wasn’t really even a contest.

#10 Luis Solignac over #7 John Goossens

UPSET ALERT: I really rate the Argentine forward. I think he’ll be a valuable asset off the bench this season and will contribute his fair share of goals. Goossens is another player, injury aside, that I struggle to find a spot for in the side. Even though I think he is a better overall player than Alvarez, I don’t think his style of play fits this year’s team. Therefore, Goose is the first high seed to fall.

#3 Dax McCarty over #14 Michael Harrington

Now, I had to think long and hard about this one. I really, really, I mean really wanted to pick Harrington in an upset in spite of my fellow Hot Time staffer John, but I just couldn’t. Even though I think our right back is going to play an important role this season, the importance of McCarty cannot be disputed.

#6 Johan Kappelhof over #11 Joao Meira

This was an all center back affair, and it was tough. To date I can’t think of an instance where Meira has made any major mistakes. However, I also can’t think of an instance where he has really done something great. Kappelhof has already made several critical tackles this season, and I truly think that he is the spine of the team. Johan moves on.

Elite 8

Disclaimer: The seeding that appears in this image got messed up. Follow the seeds assigned within the match-up descriptions. This applies to the remaining images.

#1 Juninho over #8 Jorge Bava

The man in the middle of the park takes down the man in the middle of the sticks. Again, in their match against Columbus this season, the Fire looked lost without the Brazilian veteran. Not to say that Bava isn’t going to be important, it’s just that he’s not going to be as important as his fellow South American.

#5 Michael de Leeuw over #4 David Accam

UPSET ALERT: This is coming from me, Jack Kelly, the guy that worships the ground King David walks on. But, I stand by my decision. The Lion has been, arguably, the Fire’s best player so far this season. His work rate on both ends of the pitch is undeniable, and his energy drives the team. Accam, on the other hand, doesn’t look overly pleased not to be “the man” anymore this season. He turns the ball over quite often as he’s trying to do everything on his own. Yes, his goal against the Crew was spectacular, it’s just that it seems he hasn’t bought into the Fire’s new team mentality. If I did this again in July, who knows that would happen. All depends if Accam gets on board or not.

#2 Nemanja Nikolic over #10 Luis Solignac

The Hungarian striker got his first MLS goal last weekend, and probably should have had another. He has already shown that he is going to be lethal in front of the net, especially when he is gifted goals like last weekend. Solignac is good, but he’s only going to be a role player on this team. In this instance, I have to take the predator over the poacher.

#6 Johan Kappelhof over #3 Dax McCarty

This one was tough. It made my stomach hurt. But, here’s my rationale: center back is arguably the most important position on the pitch. I know that Dax has already been influential since joining the Fire, but the importance of Kappelhof cannot be overlooked. Without the Dutchman, the Fire would have a gaping hole in the back line. We don’t really have a cover for him or Meira. Dax on the other hand, we do have players that could fill in for him. They’re not nearly as good as the American international, but we at least have back up in that position.

Final 4

#1 Juninho over #5 Michael de Leeuw

Again, this one was tough. However, I feel as if Juninho is going to be the difference maker in a lot of games this season. MDL contributes positively, but the Fire could get by, if necessary, without him. I love The Lion, but the Brazilian is just too good.

#6 Johan Kappelhof over #2 Nemanja Nikolic

Not to be cliché here, but defense wins championships. The Fire are going to be able to scrape together quite a few goals this season, and they are going to come from a lot of different players. Niko very well may end up walking away from this season as the Fire’s top goal scorer, but that doesn’t matter if the Fire continue to concede easy goals. So far so good this season, and I think that Johan’s leadership in the back is going to be one of the keys to the season (Gosh I know I have a lot of keys. Leave me alone. There’s a lot of things that go into a successful season).

Welcome to Phoenix

#1 Juninho captures national (err, sort of) championship against #6 Johan Kappelhof

Yes, the top overall seed secures the title. Ultimately, I do think that Juninho is going to be the most important player for the Fire this season. He commands the center of the park like few others in MLS can, and has already earned the captain’s armband. I value Kappelhof’s stability in the back a lot, but, even he can’t boss the whole pitch from the backline. Therefore, Juninho captures the crown.

So, what do you think? Did I make the right call? Were you upset about any of my upsets? (see what I did there?) Let us know below! And bring on March Madness!