Author: Ben Baer | Cover illustration by Duane Tomaszewski
The Fire have been the doormat of MLS over the past two seasons, having become the first team in MLS history to finish in last place in two-straight seasons. Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic made plenty of moves this offseason to try to end that streak, by acquiring an accomplished striker (Nemanja Nikolic) and two of the top central midfielders to play in MLS since the turn of the decade (Dax McCarty, Juninho).
Key Offseason Transactions
|KEY PLAYERS IN:||KEY PLAYERS OUT:|
|Nemanja Nikolic (F)|
Dax McCarty (M)
Juninho (M) All transactions
|Sean Johnson (GK)|
Eric Gehrig (D)
Khaly Thiam (M)
Player to watch: David Accam
The Ghanaian international has been one of the the few bright spots for the Fire over the past two seasons, scoring 19 goals in under 4,000 minutes. Accam is one of the fastest players in MLS, consistently putting defenders on their heels, and should have some more room to operate with a better attacking corps around him.
How they'll play
HEAD COACH - VELJKO PAUNOVIC
The Fire built a strong base defensively in 2016, but almost solely relied on Accam to provide attacking punch. This season they will look to dominate the midfield with McCarty and Juninho as de Leeuw and Accam feed a goal-hungry Nikolic.
Projected Starting XI
4-2-3-1, right to left: Jorge Rodrigo Bava (GK) — Michael Harrington (D), Johan Kappelhof (D), Joao Meira (D), Brandon Vincent (D) — Juninho (M), Dax McCarty (M) — David Accam (M), Michael de Leeuw (F), Arturo Alvarez (M) – Nemanja Nikolic (F)
11th in Eastern Conference. Despite all the additions, it will take some time for all these pieces to gel. The attacking four should provide more scoring punch in the back but with more attacking players on the field, the defense could be more exposed than they were a year ago. It should be a tight race out East and the Fire could be in it until the end before falling off.