Chicago Fire SC
- Chicago Fire SC (CHI)
- Eastern Conference
- Home: Toyota Park
- MLS CUP: 1998
- Supporters' Shield: 2003
- U.S. Open Cup: 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006
Another year, yet another rebuild for the Chicago Fire.
Paunovic and new general manager Nelson Rodriguez wasted no time in putting their stamp on proceedings, completely overhauling the playing and backroom staff in an attempt to rid the club of the losing mentality that saw them finish as the worst team in MLS in 2015.
Fan favorites Patrick Nyarko, Mike Magee, Joevin Jones and, more controversially, Harry Shipp were offloaded, deemed surplus to requirements as the roster was completely overhauled, with an emphasis on youth and the high tempo, high press game that Paunovic is expected to favor.
Head Coach Veljko Paunovic (L) and General Manager Nelson Rodriguez
Paunovic and Rodriguez have been given free reign by owner Andrew Hauptman to rebuild the team to their liking, but the manner in which they've parted with key personnel has left some fans questioning the direction of the club.
The trust of those fans is something that will have to be earned, but an encouraging preseason in which the team has played with more dynamism, energy and clarity of purpose augurs well for Paunovic’s first season as an MLS coach.
And while the roster is still a little light on numbers, experience and star quality, there is a belief that under Paunovic’s astute leadership he can mold a winning team, much like he did when leading Serbia’s U-20s to a surprise World Cup win last summer.
With players like Sean Johnson, Matt Polster, David Accam and Gilberto proven in MLS, the Fire’s prospects this year could hinge on how quickly a potential new backline of Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos adapt to the league.
Armchair Analyst's Take
It was pretty clearly time for a rebuild, and hiring a guy like Paunovic shouldn’t really be seen as a risk – he has experience in MLS as a player, which means he probably won’t have the same type of struggles adjusting that we’ve seen out of imported managers before. And given the youth of the roster as well as Paunovic’s work with the Serbian U-20s, this should be seen as a pretty happy arrangement.
But boy, did they take a risk when they traded Shipp. There are certainly other quality attackers on this team, but none (so far) who fit so snugly in that No. 10 role that’s crucial to any functional 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
How they fill that spot (which could go to Collin Fernandez who, like Shipp, is a Fire Homegrown) will go a long way toward determining if the first year of this new regime is a success or a failure. The other starkly obvious area of concern is the entirely rebuilt backline, which is A) young and B) really impressive on paper. Vincent is a full US international; Ramos is a Brazilian youth international; Kappelhof is a veteran of the Eredivisie; and Joao Meira has spent years in the Portuguese top flight.
Even so, rebuilding takes time, and fans (who don’t want to hear this) will likely need to be extremely patient.
Key Offseason Transactions
KEY PLAYERS IN:
KEY PLAYERS OUT:
Johan Kappelhof<br> Joao Meira<br> Brandon Vincent<br><a class="small" href="//www.mlssoccer.com/topic/transactions">All transactions</a>
Joevin Jones<br> Jeff Larentowicz<br> Harry Shipp
Player to Watch: David Accam
Good luck keeping up with the Ghanaian international in the open field. All it takes is one step for Accam to create something out of nothing, as you can see below. After 10 goals in 2015, Paunovic will be looking for even more from the 25-year-old.
Johnson; Ramos - Kappelhof - Meira - Vincent; Stephens - Polster; Accam - LaBrocca - Igboananike; Gilberto
David Accam is a steal at $9.0m, especially considering he is available as a midfielder. After a strong finish to 2015, Gilberto could be on the verge of a breakout season. Monitor who takes over Shipp’s attacking midfield role and Nyarko’s spot on the right.
- Brandon Vincent
- John Goossens
- Rodrigo Ramos