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Taking a Look at the 2020 Chicago Fire Roster: Part Two

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In Part Two of his look at the preseason roster, Ruben analyzes the Midfielders and Forwards

SOCCER: FEB 06 MLS - Nashville SC v Chicago Fire
CJ Sapong chases the ball during a preseason match against Nashville SC
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You can find part one, where Ruben covers the defenders and midfielders here.

Midfielders

Micheal Azira, Brandt Bronico, Raheem Edwards, Przemysław Frankowski, Jeremiah Gutjahr, Fabian Herbers, Álvaro Medrán, Djordje Mihailović

Fire Academy Invites: Allan Rodríguez, Javier Casas

Midfield is probably the most interesting positional group on the roster and as a consequence, the most worrying. Last season, the midfield bounced between excellent to competent. The Fire begin the season with a Mihailović - Medrán - Bronico trio in the center. As a starting point, this seems rather good. Djordje and Medrán are both good going forward and both have the athleticism to play the box to box role. Meanwhile, Bronico has earned his role as the midfield enforcer with his play over the last third of the season. Unfortunately, Bronico has so far been moonlighting as a right-back, which makes what’s going on much more cloudy.

Interestingly, Mauricio Pineda played at the six spot with Mihailović and Medrán in this week’s preseason match against Nashville SC. Pineda is a flexible player, so he could be an option there. However, trusting the youngster to be the link between the back line and the attack seems suspect at best. This is where having a player like Mo Adams would really help solidify the midfield. If Bronico ends up being the man at right-back, and Pineda isn’t a true option at defensive midfield, they might have to go with Micheal Azira. The Fire nearly filled this role with Gaston Gimenez and then Dejan Ljubicic, but neither deal came to fruition, so obviously Sporting Director Georg Heitz views it as a priority.

The wings are little better than central midfield depth-wise, if only because of the large number of flex players they have on the roster. All of Raheem Edwards, Jeremiah Gutjahr, CJ Sapong, Fabian Herbers and Przemysław Frankowski can play on the outside, and all have qualities that can make them successful.

The problem is that the balance of talent is all on the left. With the departure of Aleksandar Katai, the right-wing becomes Frankowski or bust. There’s no real back up on that side. The signing of Elliot Collier helps a bit, but if he hasn’t significantly improved his awareness and first touch, he won’t be more than a warm body.

On the left, despite having more options than on the right, the starting spot should go to CJ Sapong. The 2019 team MVP was excellent in his time at the position last season. He was the club’s top scorer and was always making positive plays going forward.

Overall, the midfield is in a strange position. The last two midfield roster spots are currently filled by Fire Academy prospects. They need to sign at least two more players by the start of the season. Preferably, they sign a right-winger and a defensive midfielder. At the same time, the first choice of players at each position could make for a good core as the season moves on. However, I don’t foresee the same level of chance creation that they had last season.

Forwards

Robert Berić, Elliot Collier, CJ Sapong

Fire Academy Invite: Alex Monis

The front line is the biggest question mark going into the season. We know what CJ Sapong can do, but as it stands, he is needed out on the wing. If that gets solved then he’s best used as a super sub. Off the bench, he could take advantage of tiring defenders and use his veteran wiles to create many more clutch moments. Elliot Collier, as previously stated, is just kind of a warm body.

That leaves all the striking duties to new designated player signing Robert Berić, and despite the genius that was his introduction video, I personally have some misgivings. He’s scored double-digit goals only once in his career— during the 2014-15 season with Rapid Wien in the Austrian Bundesliga. Since then, the closest he’s gotten was nine goals last season.

The Fire’s biggest problem last season was finishing chances. They were near the top of the league in chances created, and if they’d just finished a few more they would have easily grabbed a spot in the MLS Playoffs. The losses of Katai to the LA Galaxy and Dax McCarty to Nashville SC means they may not create as many chances to score. That makes efficient finishing all the more important.

Berić must score goals. And if he can’t, the Fire will need to quickly find someone who can. At the very least, they need another striker for depth purposes, but I’d almost want someone who can push for the starting job. All the Malort shots in the world can’t make up for a lack of production.

Conclusion

I’m very worried about the early parts of the season. As it stands now, the roster is thin and lopsided toward the left side of the pitch. In a year where the club is looking for a fresh start and a breakaway from past failures, they are on their way to making the same mistakes that that killed them last season. The roster is incomplete, and unless more signings arrive quickly, the coaching staff will have to paper over massive holes in the lineup.

There is talent on the roster to be sure, but I don’t know if it can overcome the problems that exist. If nothing changes, this is not a playoff team, and this is going to be another lost year.