Three Questions for the 2017 Chicago Fire Season

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Robert Kerr

The Chicago Fire are now undefeated in preseason action thus far after having made significant offseason acquisitions ahead of the 2017 MLS season. The Men In Red are now looking out from the cellar and looking upward, the most positive outlook in recent years.

Three Questions for the 2017 Chicago Fire Season

New Fire signings Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic and Juninho alone should make this a watchable season. As 2017’s opening matches draw near the seasons unknowns now come to the forefront. Amongst the questions looming for the Fire the following stand out when looking ahead to the 2017 MLS season.

How high should the expectations be for this team?

This Chicago club has been quite poor for a number of years now and was the very worst in MLS the last two. There is now reason to be positive as the 2017 regular season approaches. Major League Soccer is shaped for parity and has historically featured worst-to-first type turnarounds from teams. There is good reason for the optimism now found within the Fire’s ranks. How high should the expectations really be for the 2017 Chicago Fire? Frank Yallop’s 2015 Fire set the humble goal of reaching the playoffs by finishing in the top six of 10 teams in the eastern conference. The expectation should likely be the same now in 2017, to be competitive and reach the playoffs. In 2017 however they appear more prepared to achieve that goal.

What kind of form can the Fire expect from their new signings?

On paper the Fire have upgraded in at least three positions this year with the signings of Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic and Juninho. On a human and professional level all three players have made big changes to come to the windy city. Transferring clubs and location can disrupt the play of even the most experienced player. Coach Paunovic and company will hope their new acquisitions all hit the ground running.

For example Dax McCarty has had a very public and emotional rollercoaster of an offseason to say the least. The former NYRB midfielder has looked as good as advertised in his limited pre-season time. The weight of turning around another team could possibly take a toll on his form as the long season wares on. The Fire will need McCarty to play well if they are going to make this a turnaround season.

New Fire DP striker Nemanja Nikolic is a very exciting player. The former Legia Warsaw goal machine will be a key piece to the Fire’s season and turnaround. The player has been scoring in preseason and looks to have the confidence of a top class forward. Adjusting to life in a new city in a new country in a new league could be a hindrance to his performances. He has however moved clubs before and has scored goals at high levels in each stop of his career so far.

Of these three new players Juninho should be the least of the worries for form. The player was a stalwart for the LA Galaxy during his six years there and has achieved immense MLS success while only 28 years old. The midfielder is on a loan deal from Club Tijuana and even if his Fire tenure is short he should be able to impart some winning wisdom on the young squad.

Will Paunovic emerge as a top MLS manager?

Veljko Paunovic is now embarking on his second season as the Chicago Fire head coach and as a coach at club level. The Serbian came to the Fire after winning the U-20 World Cup with Serbia in 2015. His first season in charge of the Fire was no doubt disappointing as the club finished in last place in the MLS. After witnessing the high volume of movement in and out of the club since his arrival, the 2016 season appears to have been one of vetting and preparation.

Without the threat of relegation in the league and with the support of management he was empowered to do so. The Fire identified target players and were able to acquire them this winter. Having made these moves you would expect it is now time to perform. Paunovic’s ability to manage the expectations of those in and outside of the club may be vital to his season. This management skill may especially be tested if the Fire kickoff to an extremely hot or cold start to the 2017 MLS season.