2010 Chicago Fire Season Preview

McBride and Co. look for redemption under new boss

The Tweet and Lowdown:

New scene, same old story?
The Fire looks to finally reach the MLS Cup with de los Cobos at the
helm and without Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Setting the Scene:

Perhaps
no team underwent more prominent offseason changes than the Fire,
starting at the top. Carlos de los Cobos takes charge of a hungry club
that lost three big-time starters, including its Designated Player and
star attraction for the past three seasons. Cuauhtemoc Blanco is gone
after three years of boosting the club’s image and proving his doubters
wrong, but can the Fire recover? De los Cobos has promised an
attractive, attacking style that bucks the trend of a traditionally
defensive-minded franchise, and has already mined his coaching past in
Mexico and El Salvador to land Salvadoran midfielder Julio Martinez to
shore up the midfield.

Ageless striker Brian McBride and hulking
All-Star defender Wilman Conde are back for another round, and youngster
Patrick Nyarko seems poised for more minutes and bigger things up top.
But the team underwent a last-minute shakeup in the days before the
opener when veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch was suddenly waved, leaving
second-year youngster Andrew Dykstra in net for the opener and beyond.
Even the addition of Dutch newcomer Collins John – McBride’s former
Fulham teammate – doesn’t necessarily spell success for the Fire, which
is looking to break the hex of three straight conference final
shortcomings with its first MLS Cup since 1998.

Key Changes:

Players
In:
Krzysztof Krol (Jagiellonia Bialystok), Corben Bone (Wake
Forest), Kwame Watson-Siriboe (Connecticut) Collins John (KSV
Roeselare), Julio Martinez (Club Leon FC)

Players Out:
Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Veracruz), Chris Rolfe (Aalborg BK), Gonzalo Segares
(Apollon Limassol), Brandon Prideaux (retirement), Jon Busch (waved)

Staff:
De los Cobos takes over for Denis Hamlett as head coach from the EL
Salvador national team, and British goalkeeper coach Aron Hyde replaces
Daryl Shore. Assistant Mike Jeffries is also gone.

Star
Attraction: Brian McBride

McBride, who turns 38 this
summer, never quite considered retirement after last season, but he did
wonder if his days in Chicago were done. The former Fulham striker
contemplated relocating back to Europe if Chicago didn’t offer to pick
up his contract, but the two sides made peace to keep the Chicagoland
native at home for at least another season. He’s healthy after the
shoulder surgery that sidelined him last fall, but his scoring trailed
off last season after a hot start that made him a brief MVP candidate.
If the Fire does win the MLS Cup, bet that McBride’s playing days are
done.

Unsung Hero: Tim Ward

No player made a
bigger surprise impact on the team last season than defender Tim Ward, a
Colorado Rapids cast-off who landed in Chicago largely because of his
connection as a teenager to former coach Denis Hamlett. Ward -- who
palled around with a young Michael Bradley during the Fire’s workouts
while Hamlett was an assistant to Bob Bradley -- started immediately and
rebooted his career at defender, and logged every minute until he broke
a bone in his foot during the team’s loss in the SuperLiga final. He’s
healthy again and should provide a boost either on the back line or in
the defensive midfield.

Ready for Primetime: Patrick Nyarko

Guatemalan
midfielder Marco Pappa could also be ready to shine, but Partick
Nyarko’s time is now. The third-year Ghanaian speedster has been clutch
in late-game scenarios up top in two years at Toyota Park, and started a
career-high 22 games last season. McBride praises his line mate’s
tenacity and deceptive speed, and Nyarko’s been bulking up since he felt
he was driven off the ball as a wide-eyed rookie out of Virginia Tech.
If Nyarko can compete with the Dutch import John for time and fit into
de los Cobos’ new style of play, he could see a serious uptick from his
five career goals in two seasons.

Storylines to Watch:

This
very well could be the last campaign of an impressive run for Conde,
who earned his first All-Star nod last season after breaking into the
league in 2007. The Colombian defender’s contract runs out at the end of
the season, but don’t be surprised if Conde signs with a European or
South American club in June. He’s been dissatisfied with the league’s
offers thus far, and unless de los Cobos cultivates a relationship here
that saves the day, one of the league’s best defenders will be gone.
With Busch gone from net, the onus falls on Dysktra to somehow mature
and do it in hyper-speed. But how well the team adjusts to de los Cobos’
new style and the absence of Blanco will likely define the season. This
is the third coach in four seasons for veterans like Brown, John
Thorrington and Logan Pause, and he’s a far cry from the MLS-savvy
Hamlett who cherished defense mostly above all.

What He
Said:

“The players in this league are very strong, very
fast, and very tall. And the teams try to take advantage of these
characteristics, and that’s the style is generally the way to play in
this league. I’m coming from a different league, and a different style.”

-Head
coach Carlos de los Cobos
 

If Everything Goes Right:

The
pressure to return to the MLS Cup has built steadily here over the past
three seasons, and de los Cobos has signed on with a franchise with
lofty expectations. If he gels well with an established group of
veterans and the youngsters he’s brought on board, the Fire should at
least contend for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. An MLS Cup
might be tougher without Blanco leading the way while leaning on fresh
faces to run the midfield and in net, but the club has done more with
less talent in years past. Expect a second-place finish in the East.