MLS 2015 Season Preview: Chicago Fire

In the first of our MLS 2015 Season Previews, we take a look at what the Chicago Fire will be hoping for this year. We’ll have a new season preview up every day in the lead up to the season now so be sure to keep checking back for your team.

Chicago Fire will look to improve on what was a below par season in 2014 with the new-look squad that head coach Frank Yallop has put together. The Fire have splashed in order to improve their fortunes in 2015 following the marquee signings of Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to Designated Player contracts. And more additions are expected before the season gets underway.

Last season’s finish: Eastern Conference position: 9th – P34 – W6 – D18 – L10

What needs to change this year?

The Fire struggled last year with the amount of draws they accumulated and were very poor at hanging onto leads. Amazingly, Chicago managed to lose a total of 22 points from winning positions in 2014. This was the main reason for their league-high record of 18 draws (four more than any other MLS team). This season they will need to convert winning positions into points. A good way to secure these points is to find an out-and-out goalscorer, as Quincy Amarikwa only managed eight as their top scorer last season, and new DP’s Igboananike and Accam will be expected to find the net on a regular basis. It’s going to take a lot for the Fire to reach the playoffs in an even more competitive Eastern Conference this season.

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Key changes to squad:

Ins: Kennedy Igboananike – Forward (Designated Player), Shaun Maloney – Midfield/Forward (Designated Player), David Accam – Forward (Designated Player), Patrick Doody – Defender (Homegrown Player), Adailton – Defender.

Outs: Bakary Soumare – Defender, Patrick Ianni – Defender.

Key player: Shaun Maloney – Midfielder/Forward

Shaun Maloney will provide invaluable experience to a side that lacked inspiration last season when seeing off games. A creative forward who is adaptable in many formations, Yallop has made a good addition to his squad with Maloney. As a Designated Player he will command a key role in the team but do not be surprised if he plays multiple positions throughout the season as Yallop will want to use Maloney, and other versatile players like Harry Shipp, to his full advantage.

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One to watch: Harry Shipp – Midfield

A strong contender for MLS Rookie of the Year in 2014, Harry Shipp will want to follow up a solid first season by solidifying his spot in Yallop’s much-changed team. Shipp will benefit from the new additions and we fully expect him to still be a key player in a Chicago team that is out to prove a point this term.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 7th

We expect a good showing from Chicago this season but we’re not convinced it will be enough for the playoffs as this is strongest the Eastern Conference has ever been. But as always, the MLS provides an entertaining watch, and anything can happen. The key will be how quickly all the new signings can gel together.

How do you think the Chicago Fire will fair in 2015?

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5 young MLS stars to watch out for in 2015

With just the MLS Cup Final to play and the 2014 season close to completion, we take a look at five MLS prospects that have lit up the league this season and look set for bright futures.

These young stars are already key players on their teams but will only improve as time goes on and they could be set for huge campaign’s in 2015.

1. Diego Fagundez – New England Revolution

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At 19 years of age, Fagundez has become one of the brightest talents in MLS over the past two seasons having made a breakthrough with the New England Revolution. He has had limited game time since the arrival of USMNT star Jermaine Jones at the franchise.

But he should be set for a great 2015 campaign, and hopefully we will see him at some point in Sunday’s MLS Cup Final.

2. Fabian Castillo – FC Dallas

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Castillo is an explosive winger who is comfortable on either wing. His exceptional dribbling skills have left defenders dazed all season and adding ten goals to Dallas’s tally has made him a great asset for the team.

At just 22, we’re expecting big things from the young man.

3. Tesho Akindele – FC Dallas

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Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year, Akindele, has been superb since breaking into the team. Blas Perez is still the first-choice forward but with eight goals in 29 appearances Akindele has showed great promise.

He and Castillo could make Dallas even more of a force in MLS next season.

4. Gyasi Zardes – LA Galaxy

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The most prolific of our five picks, Zardes has become a key player for the Galaxy this year, and has been a valued partner for MLS MVP Robbie Keane. Netting 16 goals this term has made him a huge asset for LA and he should only improve heading into next season.

Can he finish off a great year with an MLS Cup winners medal on Sunday?

5. Joao Plata – Real Salt Lake

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At 5’2 he’s the shortest player in MLS history, yet he has an abundance of talent. Plata is a compact, yet explosive forward that is comfortable on either foot. He has finally settled in MLS after his stint at Toronto FC and looks at home with Real Salt Lake.

He netted 13 goals in 28 appearances this season and is huge threat for RSL. There is more to come from the Ecuadorian.

Who do you think is the best young talent in MLS right now?

FC Dallas’ Tesho Akindele named as MLS Rookie of the Year

FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele has been named as the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year, beating Chicago Fire midfielder Harry Shipp and DC United defender Steve Birnbaum to the award.

The 22-year-old enjoyed a fantastic campaign as he scored eight goals and picked up three assists through the 2014 regular season and MLS Playoffs.

Dallas have run a social media campaign supporting Akindele for the past few months with the hashtag #VoteForTesho. The campaign was an outtake of the classic US comedy Napoleon Dynamite starring Tesho Akindele and teammate Matt Hedges.

The support for the forward clearly worked and his impressive form through July and August saw him score six goals in six games – incidentally when nearest rival for the award Harry Shipp‘s form dipped.

Shipp looked like he was going to run away with the award after his incredible start to life in MLS but the FC Dallas man has beaten him to the award in the end.

Akindele was selected with the sixth pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and wasn’t disheartened by the fact that he only saw 15 minutes of action through Dallas’ first ten league games.

He went on to become a star and became the youngest Dallas player to ever score a goal in the playoffs when he netted against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference knockout round.

Akindele is delighted to have picked up the award and will now be focused on getting FC Dallas back into the playoffs next season.

“It’s honestly one of the best days of my life. It’s such an honor and I couldn’t be happier,” he said upon learning of his award.

Video to celebrate Tesho Akindele’s Rookie of the Year award (via MLS on YouTube):

Do you think Tesho Akindele deserved to be named MLS Rookie of the Year?

Harry Shipp reveals thoughts on rookie season with Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire didn’t enjoy the best of seasons in Major League Soccer this year but one bright spark for the team was rookie Harry Shipp and his performances will give the team hope for the next campaign.

Shipp made the transition from college football to professional standard look incredibly easy in the first half of the 2014 season despite the fact the Fire struggled to find form.

His performances dipped slightly as the season progressed, and he admits that getting used to losing was a tough adjustment to make.

“Obviously from a team standpoint it was a disappointing year. Coming off being successful at Notre Dame, it was hard to come in here and have a realistic expectation that you’re not going to win every game and I think that was an adjustment for me,” he said.

“But the good thing about these guys is that we didn’t stop fighting all year, just unfortunately I think we were unable to sustain possession.

“I think there were key points in games where we let the other team dictate the game, and we were always on the back foot reacting to what they were doing rather than being proactive on the field. That’s definitely something we can work on going into next year.”

Shipp is expected to win the MLS Rookie of the Year award for his remarkable season as he scored seven goals and led the team in assists with six in 2014.

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He played in all but one game and has become an integral part of the Chicago team, and will be again next season regardless of who is brought in during the offseason.

“I learned to play out wide this year, both on the right and left and that’s something I’d never really done before so that was part of the learning experience.

“It doesn’t matter who comes in here as the more positions I can play means there will always be a role for me on the field and that was my goal coming here.”

The 23-year-old believes that he can become more and more of a leader for the Fire as his career progresses and the team will already be looking ahead to next season.

“As the season went on I tried to take on more responsibility and I think as I grow in my career I’ll take on more and more leadership and that’s what I foresee for myself, but I learnt so much from the older guys this season.”

Chicago are planning to strengthen the squad ahead of the next campaign and are looking at bringing in “two or three” designated players as they bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012 next time out.

Full interview with Harry Shipp (via Chicago Fire on YouTube):