After the most comprehensive rebuild in recent memory — complete with a new owner, new logo, new stadium, new front office, new coaching staff and half of a new squad — Chicago Fire FC fell one solitary point below the playoff line in 2020.
They went for more stability this winter, letting those additions grow into the team. They hope natural progression, plus a small sprinkling of new faces, will lift the Fire over the playoff line for just the second time in the last nine seasons.
It's also year No. 2 for head coach Raphael Wicky, so his ideas are well-engrained in a squad that he's now familiar with.
- MLS Reg. Season: 11th place in Eastern Conference (23 pts - 1.00 PPG - 5-10-8, -6 GD)
- Audi MLS Cup Playoffs: DNQ
Beric’s debut season in Chicago was exactly as advertised: Plug-and-play center forward who is going to get you goals, no question. He finished second in the Golden Boot race with 12 goals in 23 games.
The Argentine defensive midfielder is a foundational piece for Raphael Wicky’s squad, dictating possession and shielding the backline. A solid No. 6 is a must for any playoff hopeful.
Medran proved a fruitful midfield partner for Giminez, playing a bit deeper at times than expected. The Spaniard had two goals and six assists in his first season with the Fire.
Young Player to Watch
Aliseda was the club’s third DP signing during the previous offseason and while the Argentine showed flashes of talent, he didn’t quite find consistency while adapting to a new league and country during a pandemic. But the 21-year-old has enjoyed an impressive preseason, potentially setting him up for a big 2021.
- Stanislav Ivanov: The rising Bulgarian international winger was signed from Levski Sofia this winter, a 21-year-old with five seasons of professional experience. Unfortunately, though, he'll miss the first half of the season after undergoing knee surgery.
- Jhon Espinoza: Espinoza joins Chicago from Ecuadorian side CD Aucas. A versatile defender who's likely to mostly play right back, he's the latest member of Ecuador’s strong 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup team to head to MLS.
- Djordje Mihailovic: Chicago’s homegrown midfielder was acquired in a blockbuster trade by CF Montréal this winter, heightening the club’s belief and expectations on the likes of Aliseda to pick up the creative slack. Mihailovic had two goals and seven assists across 1,171 minutes in 2020.
- CJ Sapong: Sapong’s role in Chicago diminished in 2020, then the veteran forward departed via free agency for Nashville SC. He started only four games last year. The Fire also added young Nigerian forward Chinonso Offor this winter.
Projected Starting XI
- Goalkeeper (4): Chris Brady, Kenneth Kronholm, Bobby Shuttleworth, Gabriel Slonina
- Defenders (11): Jonathan Bornstein, Francisco Calvo, Jhon Espinoza, Johan Kappelhof, Miguel Angel Navarro, Wyatt Omsberg, Mauricio Pineda, Andre Reynolds II, Boris Sekulic, Nicholas Slonina, Carlos Teran
- Midfielders (10): Ignacio Aliseda, Javier Cases Jr., Przemyslaw Frankowski, Gaston Gimenez, Brian Gutierrez, Fabian Herbers, Alvaro Medran, Alex Monis, Allan Rodriguez, Luka Stojanovic
- Forwards (3): Robert Beric, Elliot Collier, Chinonso Offor
Armchair Analyst's Breakdown
- Strength: In terms of moving the ball from back-to-front, they are consistently one of the prettiest teams in the league. Mauricio Pineda and Francisco Calvo can both spray from center back, while Gimenez is a masterful tempo-setter as a regista. Medran chips in a bunch as well, and because they have so many guys who can hit those kinds of passes, Chicago are almost always the ones deciding where the game is played and at what tempo.
- Weakness: No team in the league more consistently picked up a can of kerosene, accidentally poured it all over their heads and then stumbled into a lit candle than the Fire. It was a weekly Keystone Cops routine in 2020, and it cost them a trip to the playoffs.
- Charles Boehm: 11th in East
- Tom Bogert: 9th in East
- Susannah Collins: 8th in East
- Charlie Davies: 13th in East
- Matthew Doyle: 12th in East
- Sam Jones: 10th in East
- Michael Lahoud: 11th in East
- Joe Lowery: 8th in East
- Jillian Sakovits: 11th in East
- Greg Seltzer: 10th in East
- Steve Zakuani: 10th in East