The 2016 season marked the beginning of a new Chicago Fire era under an incoming soccer operations staff helmed by general manager Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic, both of whom had arrived in the Windy City in late 2015.
With a new staff came a flurry of new players, including the likes of journeyman midfielder Arturo Alvarez, Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof and rookie defenders Jonathan Campbell and Brandon Vincent. They'd join 2015 holdovers like forwards David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, as well as midfielders Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis to form the core of a squad that would open its 2016 campaign on March 6 against Eastern Conference sophomores New York City FC. The seven-goal opening day thrill-fest ended in favor of the visitors, but the Fire would take a share of the points in their next two matches - draws at Orlando and at home against Crew SC - to round out the month of March.
With April came the unpredictable weather of springtime in Chicago, as Paunovic and his men earned their first win of the season in a snowy 1-0 affair against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park. The Fire defense continued to assert itself in a 0-0 replay at NYCFC, finding a level of form that resulted in a club record 412 minute shutout streak. That stretch would come to an end in the club's next match, a 2-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact. A 1-1 draw at D.C. United would end the club's April with a point and kickstart what would be a 12-match unbeaten streak at Toyota Park in all competitions.
A three-match cross-country road swing that opened May wasn't kind to the Men in Red, who dropped points in consecutive away tilts at Vancouver, New England and the New York Red Bulls. By the end of the month, however, they'd return home to extend their unbeaten home run with a 1-0 win over Houston and a 1-1 draw against the reigning MLS Champion Portland Timbers. May also saw the addition of reinforcements in the form of Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam (signed May 4 from MTK Budapest) and forward Michael de Leeuw, who saw out the end of his season with Dutch club FC Groningen before joining up with Chicago in June.
Following a two-week league hiatus for the Copa America Centenario tournament, June kicked off the club's run in the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. They'd pick up wins against NASL side Indy XI and Eastern Conference rivals Columbus Crew SC to bookend the month. In between, the Fire's road woes continued with losses at Colorado and Philadelphia. The club would additionally announce a mutual parting of ways with Brazilian designated player Gilberto on June 29.
The Men In Red would kick off a packed seven-match July schedule with a 1-0 victory over San Jose at home on the first of the month, but it would be another up-and-down month results-wise. Three wins at home were each individually followed by a loss on the road, with a 2-2 home draw to NYRB to cap the month. Notably, July saw de Leeuw's first minutes in a Fire shirt come in a 1-0 loss at Toronto, and his first goal come in the club's very next match - a 1-0 win over visiting Sporting Kansas City on July 13.
The Fire would continue to tweak to their attack as the summer progressed. Igboananike was traded to D.C. on July 29, while forwards David Arshakyan (acquired from Lithuanian side FK Trakai) and Luis Solignac (acquired via trade with the Colorado Rapids) were brought in to begin August. This was a month of peaks and valleys in Chicago. The Fire would bow out of the Open Cup after a semifinal loss on the road at New England early on, but would rebound with an emphatic end to their road winless streak - a 3-0 romp at Montreal. Draws against Orlando City SC and the LA Galaxy would additionally extend their unbeaten run of form at home.
The Fire would keep their postseason dreams afloat with a 3-0 win over the Union at home to begin September - a victory that capped a stretch of 12 results at home - but a late-season road trip would ultimately seal their fate. A loss to Toronto and a draw against D.C. gave way to defeats at NYCFC, Seattle and Crew SC. The club would wrap up its home schedule with a 2-2 replay draw against Columbus and a 2-1 win over New England before ultimately falling 3-2 in Toronto to formally end the 2016 season.
Accam would garner the team's MVP and Golden Boot for the second-straight season after a campaign that saw the Ghanaian forward bag 14 goals across all competitions. First-year man Kappelhof was additionally recognized as the team's 2016 Defender of the Year. Both de Leeuw and Alvarez also made notable impacts in their inaugural seasons in Chicago, with the former scoring seven times in 18 MLS appearances and the latter setting career highs in games played (30), goals (five) and assists (nine).