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What to expect from the Chicago Fire in 2021

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Haven’t been paying attention this off season? No worries. Here’s what you need to know heading into Saturday’s season opener against the New England Revolution

Chicago Fire FC entered last season with a new owner, new general manager, new coach, and 17 new players, and the team was as inconsistent as you might expect. The Fire showed flashes of brilliance, beating the Seattle Sounders, and leading the Eastern Conference in expected goals. But the team was undone by mental defensive errors, and poor finishing outside of star striker Robert Beric.

In 2021, that team remains largely in tact. Will the continuity pay off? Or will we see more of the same in Chicago?

Chicago Fire FC (2020 record: 5W-10L-8D, 11th in MLS Eastern Conference, missed playoffs)

Head Coach: Raphael Wicky (2nd season)

Key additions: Stanislav Ivanov, Chinonso Offor, Jhon Espinoza

Key losses: Djordje Mihailovic, CJ Sapong, Micheal Azira, Brandt Bronico, Jeremiah Gutjahr

Projected XI (4-2-3-1): Bobby Shuttleworth; Jonathan Bornstein, Francisco Calvo, Mauricio Pineda, Jhon Espinoza; Gaston Gimenez, Alvaro Medran; Igancio Aliseda, Luka Stojanovic, Przemyslaw Frankowski; Robert Beric

Best offseason move: Bulgarian winger Stanislav Ivanov was expected to make the biggest impact, giving the team needed offensive spark with the loss of Djordje Mihailovic. But, Ivanov injured his knee in preseason, and will miss around four months as he recovers. So, Fire fans will have to wait to see what he adds to the team.

Reasons to be worried about the Fire: Stanislav Ivanov’s injury is definitely one reason for concern. The biggest, though, are the two things that plagued the team last season. Will the team stop making mental errors defensively, especially late in matches? And, who will score for the Fire outside of Robert Beric? The Slovenian Designated Player’s 12 goals were good for second in all of MLS last season, but the team’s next highest scorer was Fabian Herbers, with four goals. Players like Ignacio Aliseda, Alvaro Medran, Przemyslaw Frankowski, and new signing Chinonso Offor will have to step it up in 2021.

Why the Fire are worth watching: Gaston Gimenez and Alvaro Medran gave the Fire one of the best midfield combos in MLS last season. They’re both back, and they both have a year of experience in MLS under their belts. Playing in front of them will likely be Luka Stojanovic, who played all of 60 minutes in 2020 before a season ending knee injury. Stojanovic should provide both a scoring punch, and more creativity in the attack, two things he was signed to add before his injury. Mauricio Pineda, who went from Homegrown signing, to the team’s leader in minutes played, to the Fire’s Defender of the Year, should continue to improve in 2021. Veteran Johan Kappelhof is back after an injury plagued 2020, looks as fit as ever, and may actually see time in defensive midfield. And Robert Beric, who was one of the hottest strikers in MLS at the end of last season, should pick up where he left off in 2021. Last season was a mess at times, and the team didn’t put together many complete, 90 minute performances. This season will be different for the Fire. As defender Miguel Navarro said recently, “This year, there aren’t any excuses.”

Prediction: This could go any number of ways, but a second year together should help. The Fire will finish 7th in the East, and sneak into the MLS Playoffs.