Chicago Fire 2018 Preview: Hoping Last Season Was No Fluke

Chicago Fire 2018 Preview
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The Chicago Fire’s 2017 season provided fans some great moments to celebrate after many down years. The Men in Red had a truly rekindled season which saw them come up and out from the MLS ash heap. Chicago rode on an impressive 11-game unbeaten run through May and June to end up with a third-place finish. The rise in form was due in large part to the arrival of Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Fire’s season ended on a disappointing note however; a banged up Fire team lost at home in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Red Bulls.

Chicago Fire 2018 Preview: Hoping Last Season Was No Fluke

At the time of writing, the Fire’s off-season has been amongst the quietest in MLS. Of the few moves made, the most notable arrivals are Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai coming on loan from La Liga’s Deportivo Alaves, and the signing of Homegrown defender Grant Lillard. The Men In Red may have drafted some talent but have brought in far fewer players than have departed. If the squad remains as is, the Fire will feature a seemingly thinner squad than in 2017. Chicago’s 2017 MLS campaign fell short when the Fire’s depth was tested. The current roster situation may have some fans concerned and hoping for some late arrivals to stoke their Fire.

Chicago Fire 2018 Preview: Hoping Last Season Was No Fluke

Who will replace David Accam’s offensive production?

David Accam had his most productive campaign in a Fire shirt in 2017. The Ghanaian speedster provided 14 goals and eight assists in a roller coaster season. Accam’s departure leaves a significant void for the Fire going forward. General manager Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic will be looking to the incoming Serbian loanee Aleksandar Katai and first-round draft pick Jon Bakero for the creativity. Katai could be a quality acquisition if he can regain his Red Star Belgrade form from the 2015/16 season which saw the winger score 21 goals. The 27-year-old will want to bounce back from a dip in form after moving to Deportivo Alaves in Spain. The tall Serbian only scored three goals in 20 games in his first La Liga season. He hadn’t started a game in the 2017/18 season and only subbed on three times before landing in Chicago.

Can Bastian Schweinsteiger stay healthy through the entire season?

Besides the growing family, the scenario remains the same as last year with Bastian Schweinsteiger. The German World Cup champion played a large part in the Fire’s best finish since 2009, and an increase of 24 more points than in 2016. The midfield icon performed tremendously and raised the level of play in every member of the team when healthy. The big question is: how many games can the 33-year-old be available for? Schweinsteiger started 23 games for the Men In Red in 2017. A fair return for the Fire as his health was a big question mark when he arrived in Chicago. As the MLS season wore on, however, his availability and impact on the team faded. Will he be any more fit in 2018 than he was in 2017?  As the roster sits now, the Fire will need him healthy for at least as many games in 2018.

Will Nemanja Nikolic replicate his Golden Boot scoring form?

2017’s MLS Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic will be returning to the Fire’s front line in 2018. The Hungarian international smashed club goalscoring records on his way to a 24 goal haul. Niko’s debut MLS season was filled with clever off-the-ball runs and one-touch-finishes. The 30-year-old forward also displayed an ironman fitness, starting all 34 games of the 2017 MLS season. The Fire learned last year that their top striker will score when given chances, but you need to get him chances. The Fire’s midfield will need to find multiple ways of getting Nikolic the ball in the box. The Fire were very one-dimensional last year and the goals dried up once the service to Nikolic declined.

2018 Predictions

We must look back if we are to accurately assess the potential for the 2018 season.
In October, my thoughts were that this off-season will be a true indicator of the
club’s ambitions and ability. When previewing this offseason, I wrote that “Nelson Rodriguez will need an abundance of new players if they wish to continue their upward trajectory.”
The Fire have not brought in an abundance of quality players. Chicago’s front office has had some swings and misses in the transfer market and may yet add players in the summer. The Fire’s main weakness in 2017 was their depth, and as of now, the Fire do not appear a deeper team.

Winter 2018 has seen the Fire’s Eastern Conference competitors add more quality pieces while the Fire haven’t. As the situation stands now, the Men In Red may have trouble producing chances up front and have a shaky goalkeeper tandem. The midfield tandem of McCarty and Schweinsteiger is clearly the team’s strength, and Chicago will need them healthy to keep the flames rising. If the squad goes without any major additions I predict the Fire will have a similar fate as in 2017. Chicago will do well to replicate last year’s third-place finish, but will likely drop into a battle for the low playoff seeds in the East.

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