Veljko Paunovic - Chicago Fire - sideline - instructions - yelling
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Armchair Analyst: Climbing up from rock bottom starts at the back for Chicago Fire

Any time you have a season as bad as what the Chicago Fire put together in 2015, you'll most likely enter 2016 with an "Under Construction" sign hanging above the locker room. GMs tend to not bring back a ton of guys from 30-point seasons.

Obviously this is true in Bridgeview these days, as Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic have mostly gutted the squad that posted these sad stats:

That's not much to work with. And as such, it seems very likely that Chicago will have an entirely new backline. First-round draft pick Brandon Vincent, who just got his first USMNT camp and cap, will start at left back, while it seems there's a better than decent chance that Brazilian U-20 Rodrigo Ramos will get the nod at right back. A pair of recent European arrivals – Dutchman Johan Kappelhof and Portuguese Joao Meira – will almost certainly be the starting central defensive pairing, with rookie Jonathan Campbell and veteran Eric Gehrig (one of the few holdovers) providing depth.

This is another one of those "on paper, it should work" situations. Chicago gave up 58 goals last year, which was tied for worst in the league, and just looking at the talent upgrade provided by the new acquisitions you get a solid argument that they'll come nowhere near that number in 2016.

But the game is played on grass, not paper, and the acquisition of talent does not guarantee an accretion of chemistry, and chemistry remains a wildly important factor in a league of parity. That's especially true of teams that, like Paunovic and the Fire, intend to press high upfield.

They haven't come out and officially said that's the plan, but the feeling from folks around the team is that they want to look very much like last year's Red Bulls (and our own Sam Stejskal speculated that may have had something to do with the decision to offload Harry Shipp).

That is a good plan if it comes together, but if the team shape goes wonky at the top, then things can get ugly at the back in a big hurry. An individual talent isn't likely to stop that; an organized team, however, is a safe bet.

Chicago are in a better spot than they were a year ago, even if I still hate the Shipp trade. But just having more talent and better balance doesn't mean they'll be a cohesive team right away.

It's going to take patience and time, no matter who they bring in.


This is the fourth in a daily series counting down to to the MLS regular season first kick on March 6. I'm using Paul Carr's tweets (with his blessing) to examine some of the bigger storylines to follow in the upcoming season.

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