Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: New Monsters of the Midway? Chicago Fire making roster come together

Armchair Analyst here to talk Silly Season moves around the league...

Posted by Major League Soccer (MLS) on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the Chicago Fire's rebuild – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.

It has not been a good recent run for the Chicago Fire, who arrived in MLS with a bang by winning the MLS Cup/US Open Cup double and were reliably at or near the top of the table for the decade that followed. The aughts may not have brought ultimate triumph to Bridgeview, but it did bring a lot of good soccer and near misses. Chicago sports fans know how to appreciate the former and how to live with the latter.

This decade has brought mostly disappointment verging on humiliation, which nobody wants to live with. The Fire have made the MLS Cup Playoffs just once in the last six seasons, a span during which they've repeatedly switched coaches, TDs and club philosophies. They've run through a laundry list of underperforming DPs. They've turned off some fans. And the one bright spot of the last five years – Mike Magee's magical MVP campaign in 2013 – was followed by two years of injuries that robbed the native son of any chance to build upon his success. This team seemed cursed, and that was that.

All of it culminated in a 2015 season that was easily the worst in the league, and doubled as the worst in club history. 

The only place to go now is up, of course. And it will be a climb.

I don't think this will be a one-season turnaround, but the early moves from new GM Nelson Rodriguez and new head coach Veljko Paunovic should inspire confidence in a fanbase that needs something to be happy about.

Here are a few bullet points to take heart from, Chicagoans:

  • Their SuperDraft maneuvering was masterful. They walked away with the best left back and the second best center back on offer, as well as a haul of allocation money;
  • They've signed two central defenders, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof, who are in the prime of their careers and have proven track records in good leagues;
  • They've added veteran know-how in the form of guys like Nick LaBrocca and Michael Harrington. Neither will move many tickets, but both have the MLS experience that is crucial in any locker room;
  • They went under the radar to sign Brazilian U-20 right back Rodrigo Ramos.

I suspect there are more moves to come as this roster almost definitely needs another winger.

More important, though, are the moves that Rodriguez & Paunovic didn't make. The Fire have a talented young core of David Accam, Gilberto, Matt Polster, Harry Shipp and Sean Johnson – guys who are just entering their prime, and guys who are being given a chance to win starting jobs outright this winter.

We all want to see what Shipp can do as a true No. 10, conducting the game from central midfield, right?


And we want to see Polster as a true No. 6 instead of a right back, we want to see Accam in Year 2 with proper service, and we want to see Gilberto out there still doing Gilberto things. I'd also like to see Mikey Stephens as the No. 8 linking Polster and Shipp – I'm reluctant to name him as part of "the core group" until I actually see it in at least a few preseason games -- and I suspect he'll get that opportunity.

There is a chance that some of them will fail, or that all of them will. Not every move works out, and not every player hits his potential.

But the point is that MLS teams are more often guilty of ignoring the talent they have on hand than they are of failing to acquire said talent in the first place. Chicago have said talent, and what we're seeing from the braintrust now are indications that they have the patience to develop it, and the plan to actually make sure that's possible. 

It's not a return to the glory days just yet. But the ascent from rock bottom has begun.

Ok folks, I'm done for the day. Thanks for keeping me company!