BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire had one of their worst seasons in franchise history in 2010, failing to find any semblance of consistency on the field as they missed the playoffs for just the second time in their 13-year history.
The club certainly has plenty of room to improve heading into 2011 – and a lot of work to do this offseason in order to do so. Here are five areas the Fire must address this winter if they’re to bounce back next year.
When Freddie Ljungberg joined the Fire in late-July, the hope was that he – along with fellow Designated Player Nery Castillo – would awake the club from its mid-summer slumber and power them into the playoffs.
While that didn’t quite happen, the 33-year-old Swede proved that he still has a trick or two up his sleeve. The World Cup vet played primarily as a supporting striker, bringing a level of class to the Fire attack that hadn’t been seen since Cuauhtémoc Blanco last pulled a Chicago jersey on.
The Fire should do everything in their power to re-sign Ljungberg, who has a player option to extend his expiring contract. If he walks, Chicago will lose more than his two goals and four assists; they’ll also lose the ability to play the attractive brand of soccer that they so desire.
Find a proven center back
With C.J. Brown retiring and free agent Wilman Conde potentially leaving, the Fire could find themselves heading into 2011 down two starting center backs. That’s a cause for concern, and something technical director Frank Klopas must address this offseason.
Klopas should look for a proven defender (or two) to lineup in the middle. The Fire could be in serious trouble if he doesn’t.
[inline_node:321400]Add a consistent finisher up top
The Fire were able to produce goals this year (their 37 tallies was just above the league average), just not from the forward position. Chicago’s strikers totaled just 12 goals in 2010 – with half of those coming from the now-retired Brian McBride.
The Fire must get more production from their forwards if they’re to improve. Given the club’s current crop of strikers, they’ll need to bring someone in from the outside to accomplish that.
Get more out of Castillo
When the Fire signed Castillo to a Designated Player contract in mid-July, they thought they were getting a player that would dominate MLS. What they got was something entirely different. Castillo struggled in his first half-season in the States, registering zero goals and zero assists in just eight appearances.
The Mexican midfielder/forward will have to step his game up in a major way in 2011 – or he’ll be out of the league before he knows it.
Settle on a style
Heading into last year, the Fire planned on integrating a possession-based brand of soccer. Unfortunately for them, that plan didn’t exactly work out. Try as they might, the Fire didn’t have the personnel to build up slowly and effectively.
If the Fire plan on sticking with their possession heavy, play-the-ball-on-the-ground style next year, they need to work on it this offseason. Players that buy into the system – and are qualified to run it – must be brought in. It must be emphasized throughout preseason. If it isn’t – assuming the Fire don’t change their tactics – 2011 could be another long year in Bridgeview.