With the new season around the corner, predictions on how the Chicago Fire will fare this season are rife. The midfield remains solid, and the forward line is taking shape with the addition of CJ Sapong.
The back line, however, is still a big question mark.
The Fire are lacking in quality starting fullbacks.
Aside from Nico Hasler, Chicago’s main option for outside back is Jorge Corrales. He’s been deputized in that position before and did... ok. He’s not a glaring weakness, but his consistency is an issue. If the Fire have to rely on him as a starter, things could get real ugly real fast.
The other options are Raheem Edwards and Diego Campos. They are fast and push up in the attack well, but they are not defenders. Don’t be surprised to see a Paunovic lineup with Edwards and Campos as wingbacks with a remit to get forward. Both Edwards and Campos make up for some of their technical deficiencies with strong work rates and dogged determination. They’ve shown themselves as willing to fight for every ball. That will serve them, and the squad, well.
Nevertheless: there isn’t anyone who can slot into that fullback role, and the players who can play there aren’t ideal options. This is going to force Pauno to experiment with lineups throughout the season, much like he did in 2018. We all know how that worked out.
Partners In Crime
I’m optimistic about Marcelo. He’s surprisingly fast at a position where players can lack speed, and that could come in handy at crucial moments during the season.
The problem, of course, is that Marcelo and Kappelhof have yet to play a game together. Centerback partnerships take time to really develop— the two players need chemistry and good communication with each other, and that takes time. With the Eastern Conference much stronger now, it’s unclear how long the Fire will be able to give Marcelo and Kap to work out the kinks.
The Last Line Of Defense
David Ousted is a perfectly fine signing. He’s certainly an improvement over what we had last year. His time with the Whitecaps shows that he can be one of the better goalkeepers in MLS.
A quick glance at his record in recent seasons shows that he’s regressed. There’s no way to tell which David Ousted we’re going to get. We’re all hoping he gets back to something resembling his 2015 All-Star Team form. But it’s entirely possible he’ll have another year like 2018, and that, through injury or poor form, we might have to turn back to Richard Sanchez at some point in the season.
What Does This All Mean?
I realize this is all a bit pessimistic, so please take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. Our defenders— and goalkeeper— have plenty of time to prove the doubters wrong. The Front Office has time to bring in more players— perhaps finally plugging the whole at outside back.
But judging on the strength of the roster right now, in Matchweek 1, the back line has a lot of uncertainty surrounding it. And it’s not entirely clear whether they’re up for what’s coming.