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Everything You Need To Know About The Chicago Fire's Upcoming Season

By Chicagoist_Guest in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 4, 2016 8:36PM

A rainy Chicago Fire game (photo via Facebook)

By Jeffrey Tobin

The Chicago Fire kick off their 2016 season this Sunday as they take on New York City FC at Toyota Park. While the Chicago Fire may not have the profile of the Cubs, White Sox or Blackhawks, the team affectionately known as “The Men in Red” deserve your attention—yes, even though they were the worst team in the Major League Soccer in 2015.

Why You Should Follow The Chicago Fire This Year

Whether the Fire are the worst or best team in the league, many soccer fans believe the entire league is beneath them. They’ll watch Real Madrid or Manchester United, but not their home-town team. MLS teams will likely never reach other leagues’ quality, but the Fire are also the only soccer team you’re going to get to watch a live game on a regular basis—and between the non-stop action and the party atmosphere Fire fans create, that’s nothing to scoff at.

The league structure is the reason the team struggles to attract talent. Salary caps keep teams from acquiring the best players in the world (although there are still several players in MLS that could start for almost any team in Europe or Latin America). Salary caps also mean the talent from team to team is similar, though, giving every team hope that this could be the year that they win MLS cup. The Fire always has a chance.

The Chicago Fire coaching staff (photo via Facebook)

What to Expect This Season

The benefit to the Fire being the worst team in the league last season is that they can only go up from here. Nelson Rodriguez was hired as General Manager and started to put together his plan for reversing the Fire’s downward trend. He hired dark-horse head coach candidate Veljko Paunovic, a former player MLS player that made his coaching mark by leading the Under 20 Serbia squad to the Under 20 World Cup in 2015.

The new leaders have ushered in a new style of play. In past seasons, players hoofed it up the field and hoped for the best—a style instilled by the previous manager. (The only people who appreciated this were opposing teams.) Based on preseason play, the Fire will play differently in 2016. Expect a higher pressure defense, with quick counter attacks to building out of the back with purpose when in possession of the ball. Expect to be entertained, or at least to watch competent soccer.

Must-See Matches

New York City FC on March 6
This is the first home game of the 2016 season, and New York’s second-year club with deep pockets has a lot of talent, including David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard. While they are all top quality players, though, they’re slow and old. Reputations and name recognition mostly matter for ticket sales. The Fire’s speed and pressure should nullify the passing of Lampard and Pirlo and lead to a much-needed home opening win.

Montreal Impact on April 16

Harry Shipp, the boyhood Fire fan and former Fire player, returns to face his former club with Didier Drogba leading the front line. This is the can’t-miss game of the season.

Toronto FC on September 10
Last season’s MVP, Sebastian Giovinco, is a joy to watch. The diminutive Italian international carried the typically awful Toronto FC into the playoffs last year, where they were crushed by their Canadian rivals. He puts on a show in every game so catch him now before he heads back to Europe.

Chicago Fire's David Accam, left (photo via Facebook)

Who to Watch

David Accam: The Ghanian international had a strong debut season in 2015, scoring 10 goals with 2 assists in 24 matches. He also drew several red cards on opposing teams with his blazing speed and quickness on the dribble, which you can see in this goal. He often did this with little to no assistance. With a high pressure midfield that can create turnovers in the opponents half and a better team passing game, Accam can easily improve on his production if he can stay health.

Matt Polster: The Fire’s first round draft pick was a standout in a midfield of mediocrity in 2015. While he was inexperienced at a professional level, his quick-thinking, tenaciousness, and passing ability were stellar for a rookie. Polster spent some time with the national team camp this January and is a member of the Under 23 Olympic team fighting for qualification. Within Paunovic’s system, he has the opportunity to step up his game and become a top midfielder in the league.

Matt Lampson: A relatively unknown goalkeeper, he may replace veteran Sean Johnson. Johnson is a solid goalkeeper that relies a lot on his athleticism to keep his team in the game. One of his major weaknesses is his distribution. Paunovic likes his team to keep possession and Lampson showed in preseason that he fits the mold of the keeper that Paunovic needs. While it might be a shock to bench a goalkeeper of Johnson’s caliber, I could see Lampson starting the season opener against New York City FC.

Chicago Fire fans at Toyota Park (photo via Jona Park on Flickr)

Where to Watch

Toyota Park is a great venue for soccer, but also quite a trek if you are not in the South suburbs. You can drive to Bridgeview, use the CTA Orange Line and shuttle bus combo, or take one of the many party buses to the stadium. If you are able-bodied, prepare to stand and chant throughout the game. The Malort shots at the tailgate parties will help. Section 8 or Sector Latino, the supporters sections, may seem a little intimidating to a newcomer but they’ll take care of you. Call 888-657-3473, or buy online.

Cleo's Pub, the Globe Pub and the Atlantic are great bars to catch a game. Cleo’s has an outdoor patio with a big screen for sunnier days, while the Globe has as many TV’s as it has Americans with Midwestern accents sporting their Manchester United and Barcelona jerseys. The Atlantic is the home of many Fire supporter events, so you’ll feel at home if you show up in red on game-day.

2016 Outlook

The Fire feel rejuvenated with a competent manager and tactician at the reins, though they don’t have the depth they need yet. With some new transfer signings, though, the Fire could be a contender for the U.S. Open Cup or a spot in the playoffs.