Major League Soccer is finally back this weekend. That’s exciting!
Last year the Fire finished third in a tough Eastern Conference, surprising many and signalling a possible return to the elite class in MLS. What does 2018 have in store for us?
On paper this team is thinner than last year, having lost a key piece in the attack with the departure of David Accam. Serbian midfielder Aleksandar Katai has been brought in as a replacement, and all eyes will be on him to fill King David’s boots.
Then there’s the Bastian Schweinsteger question. How will he hold up? Will he play in as many games as last year or more? Many questions, scant few answers.
The Men in Red will not be in action until Matchweek 2 against Sporting KC, but now’s a good time to set some baseline expectations for the club. The key phrase heading into this season is Cautious Optimism— with perhaps a little more emphasis on cautious.
Here are me three objectives the Fire should hit to have a successful 2018 season.
Make The Playoffs
Even if they have to claw and scratch to do so (which, let’s be honest, they probably will) this should be Priority One in everyone’s minds. The Fire will have to fare better away to do pull that off— last season’s away record stands at 4-9-4 (W-L-T), which is inexcusably poor.
If they can turn some of those losses into draws and maybe steal a win or two, the Fire will probably do just fine. With a less depth on this team compared to last year the challenge will be immense, but under Paunovic the squad has shown they believe in themselves and their coach. If they can maintain their current team chemistry and find ways to grind out results, they should manage to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Make a deep US Open Cup run
One of the Fire’s biggest disappointments in 2017 was their early exit from the US Open Cup. Getting knocked out in the Fifth Round by FC Cincinnati— thanks, with all due credit, to an inspired performance by Mitch Hildebrandt— has no doubt continued to leave a bad taste in the mouths of Fire fans. But 2018 is a new year, and with it comes the opportunity to set things right.
It might take a great individual performance to make this happen. Between Polster, Basti, Dax , Katai, Nikolic, Solignac, et al, there should be plenty of opportunities for someone to play the hero.
Attempt to match the last year’s Home Record
The Chicago Fire restored Toyota Park’s reputation as a seemingly impenetrable fortress last season. If the Fire are going to make the playoffs again, they have to at least match last year’s home record of 12-2-3. It’s a big ask for this squad, but if the Fire can at least win 10 games at home and improve the away record they would be in good shape to make the playoffs.
Barring injuries— hey, stop laughing— it’s definitely possible. If they can hang tight for the early part of the season and bring in some reinforcements after the World Cup, they should be in good shape. The first few months of the league could be crucial for the team— fall too far back early on and it’ll be a long climb up.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.