It’s March and that means one thing for many American soccer fans – the start of a new MLS season! This offseason was especially exciting, highlighted by the addition of two new expansion teams to the league in Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. These teams give MLS a total of 22 teams, and with Los Angeles FC set to join next year and as many as three new teams expected to join by the year 2020, it is clear that the league is making a concerted effort to establish itself as a premier soccer league capable of competing with the likes of La Liga and the Premier League for world-class talent.
The Chicago Fire, who have finished dead last each of the last three years, look to finally turn the ship around this season.
The Fire made some key acquisitions this winter, highlighted by the arrival of Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic as the team’s second Designated Player (DP). The 29 year old comes to the Windy City from Polish powerhouse Legia Warsaw, where he scored an astounding 40 goals in just 56 appearances for the club. He has also recorded 23 caps with the Hungarian national team, including a call-up for the 2016 UEFA Euro. The Fire shelled out $3 million for the striker, a bargain considering he was one of Europe’s top strikers the previous season. His salary information is not known, as MLS does not publicly disclose player salary information; however, the figure should be released by the MLS Players Union within the next few weeks.
The Fire also signed 35 year old Uruguyan goalkeeper Jorge Bava from Colombian side Atlético Bucaramanga and acquired Brazilian midfielder and MLS veteran Juninho from Liga MX club Tijuana on a one-year loan. The Fire also traded a combined $400,000 in allocation money to the New York Red Bulls for midfielder Dax McCarty.
According to FourFourTwo analyst Paul Tenorio, the Fire will finish sixth in the Eastern Conference, which would see the team advance to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012; however, I do not see such a drastic turnaround. There is still much to be done if the Fire are to become legitimate MLS Cup contenders – the team still does not have a long-term solution at goalkeeper, the back line has almost zero depth, and the midfield is not as strong as it needs to be.
If Chicago can acquire a sold center back and a quality midfielder to play opposite Dax McCarty during the summer transfer window, one could make a legitimate case for the Fire to make a serious Playoff run; however, as things stand right now, I predict the team to finish in seventh place, five points out of Playoff contention.
With that said, the future is very bright in Bridgeview and this is sure to be an exciting season. The Fire open the 2017 campaign this Saturday with an away game against rival Columbus Crew SC, before they face off against Real Salt Lake on March 11th for their first home match. Keep it here for updates on everything Chicago Fire!
Photo credit to Chicago Fire Soccer Club