2010 in Review: Best & worst of Chicago

End of an era – in many ways – during tough year at Toyota Park

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – A new head coach and plenty of new signings gave the Chicago Fire high hopes heading into 2010. The 2009 Eastern Conference finalists figured they’d build on the past season’s success, going as far as to try to integrate a possession-based brand of soccer to push them over the top.

Unfortunately for Chicago, their lofty goals – and plans for an attractive style of play – never materialized, leaving the Fire out of the playoffs for just the second time in team history.

As the offseason retooling process begins at Toyota Park, MLSsoccer.com takes a look back at the Fire’s 2010 season – handing out awards, highlighting the best moments and picking out some of the worst.

Best moment of the year

There wasn’t a more touching Toyota Park scene than Brian McBride’s farewell match. The retired striker brought an emotional – if not literal – end to his playing career on Oct. 16 against D.C. United, starting and playing the first 88 minutes before being subbed off to a standing ovation from fans, players and coaches alike.

After the match, McBride took a lap of honor with his three daughters, stopping in the center circle to address the crowd with a speech and accept gifts from the Fire organization and the fans. It was a stirring moment – and a worthy end to the three time World Cup vet’s 17-year career.

Worst moment of the year

Blaise Nkufo’s 88th-minute dagger at Toyota Park on Sept. 25 didn’t just deal the Fire another difficult result; it effectively eliminated them from postseason contention, too. The Seattle DP’s goal – which deflected off the leg of now-retired Fire original C.J. Brown and into the back of the net – put Chicago 11 points behind the then eighth-seeded Colorado Rapids for the final playoff spot. Brown’s hasty locker-room exit and curt answers in a postgame interview said it all – this one hurt.

Goal of the year

McBride’s memorable strike – which came in the 40th minute of his final match on Oct. 23 at the Home Depot Center against Chivas USA – was the ideal way to end a legendary playing career. The Chicagoland native collected Freddie Ljungberg’s low cross at the top right corner of the six-yard box, working one final piece of magic to flick the ball home with his right foot on the first touch. The goal wasn’t classic McBride – that would have required a header – but it was more than good enough, earning a nomination for MLS Goal of the Week and giving the Fire a lead they never relinquished.

WATCH: McBride scores in his final career game

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Save of the year

Up 3-2 in the 85th minute at the first-place Galaxy, rookie ‘keeper Sean Johnson – making his MLS debut – made his best save of the year. The Central Florida product – who came up huge on several other occasions in the match – watched as Galaxy winger Tristan Bowen crossed to forward Alan Gordon at the back post. Gordon snapped his header toward the goal’s lower left corner from the top of the six. It looked like a sure equalizer, but Johnson had other ideas. The Atlanta native reacted quickly, diving to his right to paw the ball away and preserve the victory.

WATCH: Johnson comes up big in his debut

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Team MVP: Marco Pappa

The 22-year-old Guatemalan took a step forward in 2010, leading the Fire with seven goals – three of which were game-winners – and posting the third-highest assist tally on the team with five in 25 appearances. He struggled a bit toward the end of the year, but his overall form was good enough to earn him a regular place with the Guatemalan national team – not to mention this award.

Best newcomer: Sean Johnson

The rookie ‘keeper only played in 13 league games, but he certainly made a significant mark. Johnson recorded a .754 save percentage, stopping 52 shots in total. The former US U-20 international made several fantastic saves throughout the year to keep the Fire in games, and he looks like one of the hotter goalkeeping prospects in the league.

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