Fire buzzing, believe Shield, playoffs within reach in 2012

Coming off of a strong 7-2-1 finish to the 2011 season, the Chicago Fire aren't only confident that they’ll make the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2012 for the first time in three years, they're also setting their sights a little higher.

“We feel we can reach the playoffs,” Fire head coach Frank Klopas told MLSsoccer.com last week. “The [US] Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, [those are] things we think we can win. It’s great that we’re setting those goals early on.”

WATCH: Klopas from training camp

Chicago are placing a lot of importance on getting off to a good start. The Fire faltered at the beginning of last season, getting just one win in their first 13 games and firing former head coach Carlos de los Cobos in late May. Results improved after Klopas signed impact midfielders Sebastián Grazzini and Pável Pardo in July, but by then it was a tad too late for the Fire to climb into the playoffs.

“We could’ve contended last year,” Fire defender Cory Gibbs said. “I think we had a strong enough team, I think coach put a strong team together last year, it was just unfortunate with the slow start that we had.”

Now, with Klopas entrenched as head coach, good competition in training and Grazzini and Pardo in the fold from the beginning of the season, Gibbs thinks getting off to a good start won’t be a problem this time around.

“I honestly feel like competition in training makes a huge difference,” he said. “This year we’re deep everywhere and it’s going to create a lot more competition in training. No one has a guaranteed spot and we know that and that’ll help. We were a little bit complacent last year, but now it’s a lot different.”

All those differences have Gibbs ready to go.

“We’re just really excited about [the season],” he said. “It’s a buzz – we’re just ready to start.”