CHICAGO - While Real Salt Lake was the expansion team playing at Soldier Field on Sunday evening, Chicago Fire coach Dave Sarachan sounded like the man melding disparate parts.
"It is the halfway point and I think we are still figuring each other out," said Sarachan after the Fire completed their 16th game of the 32-game MLS regular season, scoring three second-half goals on their way to a 3-1 victory against RSL.
Five of Chicago's 11 players that started against Real on Sunday - Tony Sanneh, Gonzalo Segares, Ivan Guerrero, Thiago and Chris Rolfe - were not on the Fire roster last season.
In all, 10 players have made their debut with the Fire during the 2005 campaign, with only Sanneh having played in MLS before this season.
"Our system is pretty much in place, and the players have an understanding of that now," said Sarachan.
The new players are having an impact, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the team's minutes played. They have scored 12 of the Fire's 27 goals (Chris Rolfe leads newcomers with four goals) and have accounted for 17 of the Fire's 29 assists (Thiago leads the team with six assists).
The newcomers have also provided depth, as 16 players have started five or more games.
"We have competition everyday at training which is important. It's not perfect, but at each area of the field, we are making progress. From Game 1 to Game 16 we have improved," said Sarachan.
The ultimate measuring stick for the revamped roster will be victories and the Fire have 26 points at the halfway point of the season, eight better than their midseason tally in 2004.
The Fire earned a dismal 33 points during the entire 2004 season and missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
"Do the math, this is a real team," said captain Chris Armas, who thinks the team is on the verge of a breakout.
"Six of our next eight games are at home, and I asked the team 'Why can't we get 18 points in that stretch?' I said a few games ago to the team that we should get 30 points in our next 10 matches. Since I said that, we've gotten nine out of a potential 12 points," he said.
The team will be challenged during the second half of the season. National team call-ups for the CONCACAF Gold Cup will affect up to five players including Samuel Caballero (Honduras), Ivan Guerrero (Honduras), Andy Herron (Costa Rica), Chris Armas (USA) and Tony Sanneh (USA).
Sarachan is unfazed. "We are going to miss those guys. I don't want to downplay that, but we feel that from top to bottom our roster is very deep." U.S. Open Cup matches will crowd the calendar in July and August, along with a July 27 friendly against Italian giant AC Milan.
A 57-day road trip, which ties the second longest stretch between home contests in MLS history, will also test the team during late August, September and early October.
Ivaldo Basso is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.