The Chicago Fire added possibly three very important additions in the last two weeks; Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo and Gonzalo Segares. Since soccer is very much a team game, it raises the question as to whether or not these changes will help or hurt the Fire’s chances for making the playoffs.
Before these additions the Fire sat in fourth place with a record of 4 wins 5 losses and 5 draws with 17 points. Since then with Freddie playing in two matches and Nery’s debut vs the Red Bulls , the Fire has picked four points with a win and a draw. So far so good. Let’s look at some recent history, shall we?
In 2004, albeit towards the end of the season, the Fire acquired Andy Herron, a Costa Rican international forward. At the time of his arrival, the Fire sat in fourth place with a record of 7-11-8. Herron played excellently down the stretch. Over four matches, he scored four goals. Alas, the Fire lost their final match of the season and finished 8-13-9. For the only time in their history, they missed out on the playoffs. Maybe the team just wasn’t good enough that year.
Let’s fast forward to 2007. 16 games in to the season the Fire were mediocre. 4-8-4 was their record and Dave Sarachan, the coach, was history. On comes Cuauhtemoc Blanco, a middle aged Mexican international with a history of being difficult to play with and to coach. Would our new Hispanic coach be up to the task? ( Any similarities to our current situation is purely coincidental) We also added later on in the season, Wilman Conde, a Columbian defender. Blanco played brilliantly. He tallied four goals including the MLS Goal of the Year. He added seven assists including the match winning assist in the final match of year which propelled the Fire to a playoff berth. Over the latter half of the year Blanco led us to six wins and six draws, only losing twice. Conde, in his seven matches, had an assist on a game winner at Columbus. The Fire defeated DC United in the first round but ultimately fell to New England in the Conference finals. Truly this was an example of key additions taking a average team and getting them to the playoffs.
In 2008 was our last example of a key player being added in mid-season. Brian McBride had his first match August 16, 2008. At the time the Fire was 9-5-5 and in second place. McBride played well scoring five goals and adding two assists. However the Fire stumbled a bit finishing at 4-5-2 to stay in second place. It looked like a McBride goal was going to send the Fire to the MLS Cup but Columbus prevailed and it was a long bus ride home from Cowlumbus for the fans who went, myself included. Once again although the addition of a world class player was helpful, it did not translate to a title and did not seem to add to an already quality side.
As you can see, the Fire has had a mixed bag with adding players to a team in mid-stream. I can only hope that there is enough time to develop chemistry with the new players so that a deep playoff run can occur.