Preview －A struggling Chicago Fire FC hope to make a turn around in the 2021 MLS Season. Raphaël Wicky is in for his second season as head coach. Johan Kappelhof and Álvaro Medrán return in full form alongside exciting new additions to the roster. Do the Fire have what it takes to secure a playoff spot? Let’s find out.
2021 Chicago Fire Season Preview
The Chicago Fire’s 2020 season was, unfortunately, a continuation of the disappointment that fans have experienced since 2017. The club has consistently failed to qualify for the playoffs. In Raphaël Wicky’s first season as head coach, the Fire (5-10-8) found themselves near the bottom of the leaderboards. They came in 11th in the Eastern Conference, and an abysmal 22nd overall.
Key Arrivals: Jhon Espinoza, Stanislav Ivanov
Key Departures: Djordje Mihallović, C.J. Sapong
Young Player to Watch: Mauricio Pineda
Rising defensive star Jhon Espinoza joins the Fire for the 2021 season. This brings some youth to Chicago’s backfield in addition to providing much needed support for a team who allowed 39 goals last season. Espinoza served as the Ecuadorian national team captain in the 2019 U20 FIFA World Cup.
Right winger Stanislav Ivanov also comes to Chicago from Levski Sofia in the efbet Liga, the First Tier league in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, it is reported that he will miss the first few months of the season due to surgery. The 21-year-old’s arrival came just days before the departure of Chicago’s leader in assists, attacking midfielder Djordje Mihallović, who assisted seven goals in his 20 games played last season. Mihallović has joined CF Montréal for the 2021 season.
Also having left the Fire is forward C.J. Sapong, who heads to Nashville S.C. He scored two goals in his 11 appearances last season. Sapong was forced to take time off due to becoming a father.
Mauricio Pineda is the young player to watch. At 23, it is fair to say that he is still not in his prime. Yet, Pineda remains one of the most dynamic players on the pitch for the Fire. The 23-year-old defensive midfielder started in all 23 games last season, scoring all three of his shots on goal and tallying two assists. Hopefully with the incoming support on the offensive and defensive ends, Pineda’s all-around play style will help open up more opportunities for Chicago.
Will another goal-scorer emerge for Chicago?
The Fire’s top scorer, forward Robert Berić, scored 12 goals last season, and the number two man behind him, attacking midfielder Fabian Herbers, scored only four. Total goals for the team last season? 33. Obviously, the Fire need to put more balls in the back of the net, and they need more than one person to step up and do that.
Fabian Herbers and Álvaro Medrán also come to mind. As a forward now given more than enough playing time, surely we should expect to see Herbers knock a few more in this season. As for Medrán, it will be his first season in full health with the Fire. He has yet to fully show his abilities and value for the team. This season, it is expected that he will be a more threatening presence on the pitch given his experience playing in La Liga.
Will the young players revitalize the club, or will the season still be an adjustment?
The Fire currently have 13 players on their roster who are under 23-years-old. With such a young squad, it’s fair to assume that the team’s value and talent will only increase in the years to come. But what about this season?
Wicky should certainly like to see the team perform well so he has an improved performance to show for early on in his tenure as head coach. Whether his transfers that favor younger talent will immediately make a positive impact on the team’s performance remains to be seen.
Building young talent is great insofar as current performance isn’t completely sacrificed for promises of glory in the future. Whether or not the younger guys are able to step up, with the return of players like Kappelhof and Medrán, fans can be optimistic that the Fire won’t find themselves fighting to stay out of last place.
Can the club fight to secure a playoff spot?
Coming in near the top of the table is likely out of the question, and it isn’t something many fans would expect right now. However, the Fire might have their first shot at making the playoffs in four years.
In 2020, the Fire were one spot away in the Eastern Conference standings from securing a play-in round game which would have given them a shot at the playoffs. With the promising preseason the team had, Chicago fans can fairly expect their team to make a genuine run into the postseason.
Last Word: 2021 Prediction
The Chicago Fire will not be a major contender in the Eastern Conference during the 2021 season. But with the return of Kappelhof and the arrival of Espinoza, they might have what it takes defensively to keep more balls out of their own net. Combined with Medrán’s return to full fitness on the offensive end, and Berić’s proven track record as a goal-scorer, this equation should spell enough wins for Chicago that they find themselves in the playoffs this year.