We are about one-third of the way through the Major League Soccer regular season and the Chicago Fire have far exceeded the expectations of many, including myself. The team that has finished dead last each of the last two seasons now sits in second place in the Eastern Conference and is hitting its stride right in the thick of the season.
Here is my recap of what has happened over the past couple of months that has transformed the Men in Red into one of North America’s most feared teams:
The 32-year old German legend joined the Fire after a lackluster two seasons with Premier League side Manchester United, where he scored just once in 18 appearances for the Red Devils; however, we cannot forget his incredible 13 year run with German powerhouse Bayern Munich, where he netted 45 goals in nearly 350 appearances with the Bavarians.
The Chicago Fire were thought to be getting a player who was a shell of his former self; however, Schweinsteiger has seemingly found new life in the Windy City, scoring two goals and recording two assists in just five appearances with the team.
Playing in the midfield opposite quality players such as Dax McCarty and Michael de Leeuw, Schweinsteiger has given the Fire the most potent midfield in Major League Soccer.
The Hungarian striker has not lost his form since departing Poland’s Legia Warsaw for the Windy City, having scored ten goals in 12 appearances for the Fire. This gives Nikolic the lead in the Golden Boot race, which is awarded to the player with the most goals over the regular season.
The 29-year old scored 41 goals in his lone season with Legia, becoming one of Europe’s top goalscorers overnight. Instead of taking lucrative offers from Premier League side Hull City as well as a number of offers from China, he decided to make the jump to the United States, where he has blossomed into one of Major League Soccer’s premier strikers.
These two players have had the biggest impact on this miraculous turnaround, coupled with the acquisition of MLS veteran Dax McCarty, the maturation of 23-year old left back Brandon Vincent, and the rise of 26-year old Ghanaian winger David Accam.
Area for Improvement
Despite having a fairly strong backline, there isn’t much depth. I mentioned this in my season preview and it was not addressed in the summer transfer window. This may very well be the Achilles’ heel for the team down the stretch
I believe the Fire will finish fourth in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has been next to unstoppable and is primed for a return to the MLS Cup Final, while NYCFC and Orlando City are both more prepared for the spotlight and more experienced than a Chicago side that has been irrelevant since 2012. The Men in Red will advance past the knockout round, but will end up bowing out in the conference semifinals to Toronto FC.
Featured photo courtesy of Goal.com