Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chicago Fire 2010 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

For the third straight season, and fourth out of five years, the Chicago Fire made the semi-finals in the MLS playoffs. Apparently that wasn’t enough for management.

The Fire had a surprising roster turnover heading into the 2010 season. Chicago let go of Head Coach Dennis Hamlett and brought in Carlos de los Cobos, the former head coach of the El Salvador National Team.

Forward Chris Rolfe and left fullback Gonzalo Segares left for Europe and Designated Player Cuauhtemoc Blanco went home to Mexico.

The most surprising move, however, was the release of goalkeeper Jon Busch just days before the start of the season.

Busch was the 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and started all 30 regular season games for the Fire the past two seasons, as well as matching a team record with 10 shutouts both years.

Busch has stated that he felt “blindsided by the whole scenario”

Instead, the Fire will turn the spot over to 24-year-old Andrew Dykstra. An undrafted free agent signee last year, Dykstra has yet to start an MLS regular season game.

Dykstra now has pressure coming at him from a number of angles. Not only does he have the pressure of getting over his nerves of his first start in the league, not only does he have the pressure of replacing Busch, but he also now will assuredly face scrutiny if the he and the Fire struggle to get wins.

The untested keeper can breathe a little easier knowing he has two veteran center backs guarding the goal in front of him.

C.J. Brown has been a starter on the team since its inaugural season in 1998 and has amassed 270 league appearances.

Next to him is Willman Conde. Considered to be an elite defender in the league, Conde was named the team’s Defender of the Year in 2009 and was also selected to the MLS Best XI.

The Fire still have a number of veteran players on offense too.

Up-top the Fire boast striker Brian McBride, a member of the MLS All-Time Best XI. Although he has only appeared in 33 games for Chicago the past two seasons, he’s scored 12 goals. He’s a threat in the air and is one of the league’s, and the nation’s, most respected players.

The Fire will pair him with 24-year-old Collins John.

Formally with Fulham, John had scored 20 goals in 95 appearances with the English Premier League team. However, most of those came in the 2005-2006 season and he has struggled to find the field and that same scoring touch since.

John has good speed and is talented on the ball, and as a former teammate of McBride’s when he was at Fulham, the Fire hope the two can come together to create more scoring magic together.

The Fire are also looking for more offense from creative Guatemalan International midfielder Marco Pappa.

The 22-year-old was originally with the Fire on a year-and-a-half loan, where he scored five goals in 36 appearances, including 28 starts in 2009. Over the offseason Chicago exercised their right to make Pappa’s loan permanent, and will look to him to really control the tempo of the game.

The Fire are a team that expect to compete for the MLS Cup year in and year out, and the number of roster changes suggest that merely competing isn’t good enough.

It may turn out that the team’s success this year hinges on the fast development of Dykstra.

If he can play well and make fans forget about Busch, then the Fire could wind up back in at least the semi-finals of the playoffs.

If Dykstra’s inexperience shows and he can’t handle the position, then all hell will break loose.

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