For the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part two of two previewing Chicago's 2012 season. You can find Part 1 here.
Depth Chart: 1. Sean Johnson, 2. Jay Nolly, 3. Paolo Tornaghi
Strengths: Johnson is one of the bright young goalkeepers in the US soccer player pool. After training with Everton, earning his second cap with the senior national team, and participating in two Under-23 camps this offseason, Johnson will return for his third MLS season – but not for long. It’s likely that Johnson will be called up to the Olympic qualifying tournament in late March and the Olympics in July and August. That’s why the Fire traded a 2013 first-round Supplemental Draft pick for Nolly, who started 14 games for Vancouver last year.
Weaknesses: Johnson was shaky at the start of last season, and he was benched for six games in April and May before regaining his form. Nolly started last season as Vancouver’s starter, but was benched midway through the season.
Wildcard: Nolly will be forced to step in when Johnson is gone on Olympic team duty. The 30-year-old allowed six goals in his last two games last season, and his play will go a long way to deciding important games in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Dan Gargan, 2. Logan Pause, 3. Jalil Anibaba 4. Tony Walls; CB: 1. Cory Gibbs – Jalil Anibaba, 2. Austin Berry 3. Kwame Watson-Siriboe; LB: 1. Gonzalo Segares, 2. Hunter Jumper 3. Pari Pantazopoulos
Strengths: Gibbs brings experience and leadership, and Anibaba is back after a standout rookie campaign. In his eighth year with the club, Segares is reliable as ever on the left. Gargan was strong after last year’s midseason trade, and Klopas has been happy with rookies Berry and Jumper in camp.
Weaknesses: Depth at center back is currently an issue, but Klopas said he plans on bringing in another player before the start of the season to fill that need.
Wildcard: Gibbs hasn’t played more than 26 games in a season during his four years in MLS. If the 32-year-old has to miss time, Berry will probably be inserted. The 22-year-old rookie would be paired with Anibaba, who is in his second year. The youthful center back tandem would be the biggest question mark in an otherwise experience lineup.
Depth Chart: LM: 1. Marco Pappa, 2. Logan Pause 3. Corben Bone; CM (attacking): 1. Sebastián Grazzini, 2. Rafael Robayo, 3. Daniel Paladini; 4. Michael Videira; CM (holding): 1. Pável Pardo, 2. Logan Pause, 3. Daniel Paladini, 4. Tony Walls; RM: 1. Logan Pause, 2. Rafael Robayo, 3. Patrick Nyarko, 4. Victor Pineda
Strengths: Depth – lots of it. The midseason arrivals of Grazzini and Pardo pushed the Fire to the brink of an MLS Cup Playoffs berth last season. The Fire signed Robayo in the offseason, and it may be difficult to keep him out of the starting lineup for long. The Fire have plenty of versatility, with Nyarko’s ability to slide back into the midfield and talented young players such as Pineda and Bone waiting in the wings.
Weaknesses: The Fire don’t usually play with traditional wingers, but even so, Pause isn’t a natural fit on the right side, where he’ll probably play with Pardo taking over the holding midfield spot. It will be difficult to leave the captain out of the lineup, so he’s expected to play, even in an awkward spot.
Wildcard: Robayo was the biggest addition of the offseason. The question Frank Klopas must answer is how he fits him into the starting lineup.
Depth Chart: 1. Dominic Oduro, 2. Patrick Nyarko, 3. Federico Puppo, 4. Orr Barouch, 5. Kheli Dube, 6. Lucky Mkosana
Strengths: Oduro had a career-changing season in 2011, scoring 12 goals after notching just 13 in his five previous years in the league. The speedy Ghanaian tandem of Oduro and Nyarko played well with the service of central midfielders Grazzini and Pardo last season. Not many teams have a speedier front line. Puppo and Barouch also may have opportunities to start if Nyarko slides back into the midfield.
Weaknesses: The Fire don’t have a proven target forward in the mix. Nyarko has led the team in assists for the last two seasons, but he scored just two goals during that time.
Wildcard: For the second straight year, the Fire added an Uruguayan striker when they signed Puppo. The 25-year-old takes will likely fill a similar role to his countryman, Diego Chaves, as a spot starter. He played in only 10 games for Primera División Uruguaya side Danubio FC last season, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much he’ll contribute.