Soldier Field (MLS capacity: 61,500)
2004 Record: 8-13-9, 33 pts. 5th in the Eastern Conference
GF: 36 (8th in MLS)
GA: 44 (8th in MLS)
Finish: Did not make playoffs
Head Coach: Dave Sarachan
Key Departures: Andy Williams, Dipsy Selolwane, Evan Whitfield, Orlando Perez, Henry Ring, D.J. Countess, Damani Ralph
Key Additions: Tony Sanneh, Samuel Caballero, Mario Ivan Guerrero, Thiago, John Thorrington
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
GOALKEEPER Zach Thornton: Returns to the Fire lineup after returning from Portugal late last season, only to be kept on the bench by Henry Ring. Regarded as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS history, his presence should have a calming effect on a Fire defense that was one of the worst in MLS in 2004.
C.J. Brown: A Fire original, Brown has played in 172 games for Chicago. A strong one-on-one defender with good strength and size, Brown will again be a leader in the back for Dave Sarachan.
Jim Curtin: The only field player to start all 30 Fire games in 2004, Curtin (6-foot-4) is strong in the air and solid with his feet.
Samuel Caballero: With over 40 appearances under his belt for the Honduran national team and club stints in the top Uruguayan and Italian leagues, he should make an immediate impact.
Mario Ivan Guerrero: Caballero's teammate on the Honduran national team makes those two a natural pairing in defense. Also has experience in Uruguay as well as the English Premier League.
Chris Armas: Unquestionably one of the top defensive midfielders in the United States. If he stays healthy, he'll be a force to be reckoned with.
Jesse Marsch: Missed a hefty chunk of '04 due to injury, but appears to be ready to resume his playing role full time alongside Armas in the center.
John Thorrington: Comes to MLS for the first time as a 25-year-old after beginning his pro career in Europe as a teenager. Being touted as the finally arrived replacement to DaMarcus Beasley.
Justin Mapp: Again healthy, though he needs to have a good campaign on the left flank. Good crossing ability, vision and craftiness give him the potential to be one of the top playmakers in the league.
Nate Jaqua: Scored four goals in 26 games in 2004. He needs to get off the mark quickly if he hopes to lock up a starting spot and keep Chad Barrett, Chris Rolfe and others at bay.
Andy Herron: Also had four goals in 2004, but in only four games. He'll be a regular up front this season, though the squad will need to figure out what to do without him when he departs for World Cup qualifying matches for Costa Rica
A revamped defense should help close the gaps that plagued Chicago last season. The midfield is bolstered by talented players on both wings with Armas and Marsch returning to the middle. The big question is up front: Can Herron produce through the whole season? Who else will score the goals in Chicago? Answers to those questions could be the difference between MLS Cup Playoffs and again missing the postseason.
NEWCOMER WITH THE BIGGEST IMPACT: Tony Sanneh
Once he's healthy, Sanneh's injection into the Fire starting 11 will be a big help. His experience, positioning and ability to anticipate his opponent's moves have made him one of the best defenders the U.S. has produced. He also knows what it takes to win an MLS Cup, having accomplished the feat twice with D.C. United before departing for Europe.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.