Chicago Fire: 2007 Season Preview

(NOTE: A decision against being totally psychotic about research no doubt played a hand in making it easier to churn out these previews. I anticipate getting to one of these a day...allowing for the odd day off. That is all.)

Before looking forward, it seems a good idea to look back, so here's a look at what some easily located items had to say about the Chicago Fire's 2006: 2006 Season Wrap Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on Chicago's '06 (Know my biases)

2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England's Ins & Outs for (most) changes to the roster (listed alphabetically)

Roster's tardy listing; or the actual current roster from ChicagoLand Soccer

Now...The Future.

Key Men
Justin Mapp - Call him what you will - Clint Dempsey’s little brother, the one-man revival the Peter Tork cut - but he’s unquestionably the unsettling presence for Chicago’s offense. He had a great 2006, not to mention showing flashes for the U.S. men in early 2007, and, absent a key signing, he’ll have to carry still more of Chicago’s offense this year. Skills-wise, he’s up to it, but he has gone missing before.

C. J. Brown - One of the two most-hated players on the Fire - and that’s saying something - but, near as I can tell, Brown is the team’s leader in the back. He’s wicked smart and not a little dirty, but very effective.

Ivan Guerrero - Though he pushes for “most-hated” honors, especially among New England fans, I count this cat as one of the most under-rated offensive contributors in the league. He’s more than his numbers; he gets forward like gang-busters and pulls the opposition defense like taffy.

Forwards? - With Nate Jaqua and Andy Herron gone, there’s a very real question about who will score for the Fire. Calen Carr? Chad Barrett? Rookie Jerson Monteiro? Pencil in “maybe” for the first two and “doubtful” on Monteiro and that leaves a lot of work for Chris Rolfe. Soccer New England’s trade sheet mentions Ryan Coiner, but he’s not showing on any roster I can find. Between Rolfe, Mapp, and Guerrero they do have good mobility up top, but only one player possesses much by way of size (Barrett). After these few, though, there’s a clear shortage of proven quantities. If the Blanco thing fails to come together - or, failing that, an equally impressive deal, or, failing that, one of the new guys coming out of left-field - look for the Fire to stay in more games than they win.

Thin at ‘Keep - I like Matt Pickens; just think he’s a bang-up ‘keeper. But, after him, there’s just some 2nd-year ‘keeper named David Mahoney and a completely new guy named Nick Noble (great name, by the way). One or both might prove as much a happy surprise as Pickens proved to be...but would you want to count on that?

Central Midfield - Whether it’s going forward (Thiago) or having the legs to police the space in front of the back four (Chris Armas, Diego Gutierrez), I can’t believe Chicago will have the players to control the middle of the park. Brian Plotkin looked decent last year and I seem to remember some good things about Logan Pause, but they’re not of the same caliber as the two elder statesmen, not yet at least. I would have put the Armas/Gutierrez midfield pairing in the “liabilities” column had those two not proved me wrong - Armas, in particular - in the past. On the “going forward” side, I’ve seen two sides of Thiago: the raiding, pillaging midfielder and the guy you only notice when he fails to pass the damn ball. The Fire’s chances, and the size of the burden Justin Mapp must carry depends quite a bit on which version of Thiago shows up.

The Entire Draft Class - To be blunt about it, someone in this bunch of new players needs to pay off and not now, but right now.

Prospects in Gambling Analogies
Assuming nothing changes, Chicago off-season strategy amounts to standing pat on a 14 with the house showing a seven. Put another way, enough teams across the league improved that I can’t see these guys keeping up. I think they’ll miss the post-season this time around.

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