2013 in Review: Mike Magee leads furious Chicago Fire rally, but brutal spring proves too much
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2013 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with D.C. United and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2013 record: 14-13-7 (49 points); 47 GF / 52 GA (-5 GD)
The Chicago Fire season may as well have been divided in two – before Mike Magee and after.
Before the native son returned to the Windy City, the Fire dug themselves a deep hole, scoring just nine goals while going 2-7-2 after entering the season with high expectations.
When Magee arrived in late May, the Fire morphed into a playoff contender.
As a two-time defending champion, Magee brought confidence to a team searching for answers. Chicago went 12-6-5 after the arrival of the 29-year-old, who scored 15 of his 21 goals with his hometown team and was named league MVP.
Magee wasn't the only key addition who played a hand in turning around the Chicago's season. Center back Bakary Soumare returned to Chicago to replace German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich, who didn't play a game this season after suffering multiple injuries before he ultimately retired.
The Men in Red put themselves in control of their own destiny by going 8-3-2 in the 11 games leading up to the finale, but a loss to New York ended Chicago's year in heartbreaking fashion.
Best Moment of the Year
Designated Player forward Sherjill MacDonald couldn't find the back of the net for the Fire during his 13 games in 2013, but Magee solved Chicago's goalscoring woes immediately when he came to town via trade.
Magee scored in each of his first seven games for the Fire, which comprised four league games and three US Open Cup games. Magee gave Chicago something they've been seeking for years – a consistent goalscorer. He also brought a winning attitude.
Worst Moment of the Year
As much as the Fire turned things around, they dropped plenty of points late in games throughout the latter part of the season.
Still, they controlled their own destiny on the last day of the season, when they could have secured a playoff spot with a tie or moved into third place in the Eastern Conference with a win in New York. After Magee scored early to put the Fire ahead, New York dismantled Chicago in a 5-2 win.
The Fire can point to several frustrating games in which they dropped points as the reason they were sitting at home in November, but the New York loss was certainly the most painful.
Jalil Anibaba only scored once this year, but it was a special one against FC Dallas in the third-to-last game of the season. The third-year defender collected a loose ball off of a Chicago corner kick, took a touch, and unleashed a rocket into the upper corner to put the Fire up 3-0 in the 3-2 win.
When he arrived, Magee immediately brought with him championship pedigree, and the consistency with which he put the ball in the back of the net was unprecedented. He hadn't scored more than seven goals in one year during his first 10 MLS seasons, but he tripled that number this season. He finished second in the Golden Boot race, and the Fire's 12-6-5 record after his arrival speaks for itself.
Not much of the 2013 Chicago front office will return next year, but former president of soccer operations Javier Leon and the Fire brass deserve plenty of credit for turning a guy who said he would never play in Chicago into the 2013 MLS MVP.
Robbie Rogers decided to return from his short retirement in May, a few months after the Fire had acquired his rights in a trade for Dominic Oduro that also bagged them Dilly Duka. After holding out for a few weeks, Chicago pried Magee away from the LA Galaxy in a trade that would seem more and more lopsided as the season went along.
"In my opinion, I feel like we laid down a little bit, we lacked a little bit of heart, which in the situation we were in I feel like that's all we really needed … We didn't have the right mentality to get ourselves out of any holes.” – Mike Magee after the Fire's season-finale loss to New York
1. Playmaker: Since Sebastian Grazzini left midway through 2012, Chicago haven't had a true No. 10. After trying to bring in a creative, attacking central midfielder throughout the next year, they brought in Ríos, a defensive midfielder who won't return in 2014. Put a playmaker behind Magee and Anangonó, and the Fire attack could become one of the more formidable in the league.
2. Cover in the back: The Fire may not bring back backup right back Wells Thompson or second-string left back Shaun Francis, so finding cover for Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba will be important. Hunter Jumper may get the chance to return as the team's third center back, but an addition in the middle wouldn't be surprising.
3. Backup goalkeeper: New coach Frank Yallop decided to let backup goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi go, so he'll need to bring in a new backup for Sean Johnson (pictured at right), who could be gone for the World Cup.