It’s been tough to say anything with absolute certainty during the pandemic, but with MLS and its players’ union reaching a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement late Friday night, it appears the 2021 season is on.
Preseason opens later this month, and games are slated to kick off April 3. Will the Chicago Fire be better than the team that managed just five wins last year? It’s hard to say. With what’s likely to be the youngest team in the league heading into 2021, it’s tough to predict how good they’ll really be. That said, here are four reasons to get excited in 2021:
Let’s begin with the biggest one: you might actually get to go to a game this year. I’m fortunate. I got to watch from the press box at Soldier Field last season. But, nothing beats going there as a fan—kicking the ball around with family and friends before the match, seeing the players walk out of the tunnel, the sunshine, the lake, screaming after goals. If all goes at planned, the Fire will be able to host fans at Soldier Field at some point this season, and we can get back to something close to normal.
After scoring buckets of goals in the Serbian league, Luka Stojanovic came to Chicago with big expectations. However, after just 60 minutes across two matches, his season ended with an injury at the MLS is Back tournament. But, after months of rehab, Fire coach Raphael Wicky said Stojanovic is healthy and should be ready to go.
“He will help us with our offense in the final third,” Wicky said of Stojanovic. “He’s technically a very, very quality player.”
Fresh off another USMNT camp, Mauricio Pineda begins his sophomore season with the Fire as one of the team’s key players. In 2020, Mauri went from signing a Homegrown deal, to starting his first game, to leading the team in minutes played, to earning Fire Defensive Player of the Year honors. Not bad for a rookie.
“I think no one expected that from Mauricio last January when he started with us,” Wicky said of the Bolingbrook native. “But it just shows his potential, and his talent, and his willingness to learn, and willingness to progress and come in to get better every day.”
Will Mauri continue as a centerback, or will he push up into the midfield? That’s probably the biggest question with Pineda heading into 2021. Honestly, it’s more of a question about which of his teammates step up. Pineda is versatile enough to help the team from either defense or midfield.
The Crown is on the way out
There’s really no debate that the Crown logo cast an ugly shadow over the 2020 season. The Fire did a lot of really good things off the field last season, but that one big slip up killed much of the goodwill the club would have received. The Crown isn’t gone just yet, but the complaints should be. Kyle Sheldon and his team have been extremely transparent with the new logo design process. It seems the club really is listening to the fans, and the new crest will hopefully be one that everyone can support in 2022.
The Crown is on the way out. Nelson Rodriguez is gone. Pauno’s at Reading. Bridgeview is long gone, and the club seems to be listening to fans. There’s an owner willing to spend money on a team he actually cares about, and a football operations team with a clear plan to find young gems. Unless you make it your personal identity to be a disgruntled Fire fan, there’s not much left that should make you angry.
That leaves one last thing the club needs to fix. It’s a big one, but the solution is clear. Go win a trophy.