2018 Key Transfers: Chicago Fire

As the 2018 MLS season closes in, we will run through the key additions and losses for all 23 teams over the course of the winter transfer window. There have been a number of key signings and significant trades which should ensure the new season is as exciting as ever before. Today we look at all Chicago Fire’s key transfers and what it could mean for them in their 2018 MLS campaign…

Chicago Fire were impressive during the 2017 season. Finishing in the top three was a major improvement on the previous year, although they did fall short at the first hurdle in the playoffs. Now it is time for Veljko Paunović’s side to kick on and see if they can reach the playoffs for the second season on the bounce. There have been some high profile departures from the squad with as many as 13 shown the exit door. The Fire have added five new faces so far but it would be a surprise to see their business stop there…

Key signings

Grant Lillard: Tipped as one of the best college soccer players over the last four years, Grant Lillard is an exciting prospect for Chicago. The 6-foot-4 central defender is rated highly by General Manager Nelson Rodriguez who feels he can become a dominant player. Lillard featured in an Indiana University side that conceded just seven goals in 25 games, so it is clear he has the potential to be a future star. While he may not be expected to be a regular starter in his rookie season, he will no doubt be utilised and coming up against some of the best attacking sides in MLS is only going to help him improve his qualities.

Rafael Ramos: Another defender with the potential to make an impact for Chicago. Rafael Ramos is a name familiar to MLS having been at Orlando City since their introduction to the league back in 2015. He’s made 37 appearances in his MLS career so far and at just 23 there is plenty of time for him to become a regular feature of the Fire backline. Providing healthy competition for Matt Polster will be beneficial to improving Chicago’s squad depth.

Jon Bakero: When talking about having a name to live up to, there might not be a huge amount of people who can tell you much about Jon Bakero. He is the son of former Spanish international and Barcelona attacking midfielder Jose Mari Bakero. The 21-year-old is looking to follow in the footsteps of his father and make a name for himself, and while he has not yet played in Europe, his inception into MLS has an impressive back story. He was awarded with the Hermann Trophy as the NCAA’s top player for 2017 and the Class Award during his senior college year. His commitment to college soccer has shown his desire to succeed and signing through the SuperDraft is a clear indication of his efforts paying off. Bakero is going to be one to keep an eye on…

Aleksander Katai: The Serbian has come in on loan from Deportivo Alaves. As a versatile option in either attacking midfield or on the wing he is seen as a positive addition to the Chicago squad and someone who can help fill the void left by recent departures.

Notable Departures 

John Goossens: The loss of John Goossens might not come as too much of a surprise for many, however he will be a player Chicago will miss having in the squad – highlighted by the number of times he featured for the Fire last season. The midfielder made 24 appearances in the 2017 campaign, starting 15. He was an important member of the squad who surprisingly was their second-highest assist provider with four, while he added three more goals himself.

Joao Meira: Chicago’s top four appearances makers were defenders and Joao Meira was one of them. A fundamental part of their backline, he started 27 of his 30 games in 2017 but is now a free agent. After 58 appearances with Chicago during his two seasons with the club he signed a contract with Lorca FC in the Spanish Segunda, although his contract has since been terminated after the side failed to meet their previously agreed terms, leaving him in limbo.

David Accam: The biggest departure from Chicago has to be David Accam – their top scorer in the 2017 campaign. The winger, who as we all know has blistering pace and the ability to create something from nothing, has moved on to Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia Union. He will be a huge miss for the Chicago starting XI and is yet to be replaced with a like-for-like attacker in terms of quality and experience.

Arturo Alvarez: Another Chicago player who has left the club after two seasons is Arturo Alvarez. He has been traded to Houston Dynamo after featuring 25 times during the 2017 campaign. Alvarez netted three goals and provided a further two assists last season but struggled to be selected on a consistent basis having started just 13 games. Despite all that, he was a frequently used squad player who Chicago will be looking to replace with like-for-like experience given that he is about to begin his 15th MLS campaign.

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MLS Preview and Prediction: Chicago Fire vs Houston Dynamo

Competition: Major League Soccer – Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo

Venue: Toyota Park – Saturday, May 21 – 17:00 ET (22:00 BST)

Match Odds: Chicago Fire 6/5 – Draw 23/10 – Houston Dynamo 23/10 

Match Preview

It’s the battle at the bottom of Major League Soccer in this fixture as Chicago Fire welcome Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park.

Chicago come into this one off the back of their 1-0 away loss against RBNY, which was their fourth loss in their last five games.

Veljko Paunovic’s side have had form better at home than their overall form suggests and in their last five they’ve won one, drawn two and lost two.

Chicago Fire sit bottom of the Eastern Conference on seven points. They’ve only won once all season and scoring goals is their main problem. The Fire have only conceded 13 goals which by comparison to the league high of 22 isn’t too bad, but they have only found the net 12 times.

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Houston Dynamo come into this one off the back of their 1-0 win over Salt Lake, their second win in three but those are their only two wins in their last nine.

Dynamo haven’t won any of their last 13 on the road and have only picked up two points in those 13 games.

Owen Coyle’s side are bottom of the Western Conference, they have won three of their 11 games and it’s a similar story to Chicago in that they have scored one less than they have conceded, 18 for and 19 against.

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Team News

Chicago Fire have five injury concerns heading into this tie. John Goossens and Michael Harrington are expected to be out, while Collin Fernandez, Arturo Alvarez and Patrick McLain are all doubts.

Raul Rodriguez is Houston Dynamo’s only injury concern for this tie.

Key Points

Chicago Fire’s form: L/D/L/L/L

Houston Dynamo’s form: L/L/W/L/W

Key Stat: Houston Dynamo have lost their last nine away matches in MLS and have conceded at least two in nine of their last 11 away.

Key Player: Kennedy Igboananike – The Chicago forward has netted four goals in ten so far this season. If he can get on a scoring run he can lift his teammates and give them the belief they need to work their way up the East.

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Score Prediction

Chicago Fire 2-2 Houston Dynamo – These two will both be looking at this as a game they can win. Houston are in the better form coming into the tie but their away form would make a win look unlikely before kick off. Chicago need to use home form to take points off visitors to Toyota Park but in reality a point does neither of these sides a favour.

MLS Preview and Prediction: Chicago Fire vs New York City FC

Competition: Major League Soccer – Chicago Fire vs. New York City FC

Venue: Toyota Park – Sunday, March 6 – 14:00 ET (19:00 GMT – Live on Sky Sports 1)

Match Odds: Chicago 11/10 – Draw 12/5 – NYCFC 12/5

Match Preview

Chicago Fire host New York City FC in their 2016 MLS opener on Sunday in a key Eastern Conference clash between two sides looking to break into the top six this year.

Both teams endured tough campaigns last year and will be hoping that managerial changes can inspire a change of fortunes in 2016.

Chicago have brought in Veljko Paunovic as their new man and the former Serbia U20 coach will hope his high-pressing style of play can prove effective from the first kick.

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He has watched his Fire side enjoy an excellent preseason campaign, as they went unbeaten through six matches (W5 D1), and the focus will now be on transferring that form into the new MLS season.

A home opener will boost their chances of starting on the right foot, but NYCFC will arrive with high expectations of their own under new coach Patrick Vieira.

New York City finished in eighth place in their inaugural season last year and will hope to improve from their experiences in the league.

They will see a trip to Chicago as a winnable fixture but there is a real sense of the unknown surrounding both sides, as things could either improve dramatically, or remain poor.

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NYCFC also enjoyed a solid preseason campaign, winning five of their six games and losing just once, so this is perfectly poised.

The corresponding fixture last term saw Chicago run out 1-0 winners before the pair played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium.

Team News

Chicago Fire have three injury concerns heading into opening weekend. Eric Gehrig is ruled out with an ongoing foot injury, while David Accam and Matt Polster are both listed as questionable. Draft pick Brandon Vincent should make his professional debut at left-back.

New York City also have a few injury worries heading into their 2016 opener. Connor Brandt and No.1 draft pick Jack Harrison are both ruled out, while Frank Lampard looks set to miss this one as he is struggling with a calf problem. The English midfielder remains doubtful along with Jefferson Mena and RJ Allen.

Key Points

Chicago Fire’s preseason form: W/W/D/W/W/W

NYCFC’s preseason form: W/W/W/W/L/W

Key Stat: NYCFC have only won one of their last eight away games in MLS.

Key Player: Gilberto – The Brazilian forward hasn’t always been the most reliable striker during his time in MLS, but he enters 2016 off the back of a good preseason campaign and will hope to fire Chicago to victory in an important season opener on Sunday. A goal for him in the opening game could set the tone for a productive season.

Photo: MLSsoccer.com

Photo: MLSsoccer.com

Score Prediction

Chicago Fire 1-1 NYCFC – This is expected to be one of the tightest games on the opening weekend of the new season. Both sides have impressed during preseason and will look to get off to the perfect start in what is a key Eastern Conference clash. However, they are likely to cancel each other out and so a score draw looks set to unfold.

2016 MLS Season Preview: Chicago Fire

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Chicago Fire will be looking to achieve this year…

Chicago Fire had a season to forget last time out, finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference and ending up the lowest ranked side in MLS. They lost the most games out of every MLS side and had the worst goal difference. Fire fans have no choice but to accept a second-straight season of misery, move on and hope for the best in the upcoming campaign, but as both conferences continue to attract top players from across the globe, this could be yet another season of difficulty. Veljko Paunovic has lost some notable players and has lost more than those who have come in so far. The Fire need to make some signings and fast if they are to have a squad capable of improving on last seasons dismal performance. Paunovic is under pressure to turn things around in his first full season and that pressure is only going to mount unless new signings are brought in.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 10th – P34 – W8 – D6 – L20

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What needs to change this year?

Chicago’s main aim needs to be to concede less goals, as they shipped 58 last term – one of three sides to do so – but they didn’t have the capabilities to score the goals to make up for it at the other end. They have to shore up their defence so that when they do score, the goals are actually counting for something. Winning just eight games out of 34 isn’t good enough and it is tough to see how they are going to improve on that record with just over two weeks to go until the new season kicks off. They scored more goals than six other MLS sides, so there are positives to build upon, and a good start to the campaign would really give the club a boost.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Patrick McLain – Goalkeeper, Brandon Vincent – Defender, Jonathan Campbell – Defender, Michael Harrington – Defender, Joao Meira – Defender, Johan Kappelhof – Defender, Rodrigo Ramos – Defender, Drew Conner – Midfielder, Jack Harrison – Midfielder and Nick LaBrocca – Midfielder

Outs: Jon Busch – Goalkeeper, Alec Kana – Goalkeeper, Adailton – Defender, Jeff Larentowicz – Defender, Lovel Palmer – Defender, Daneil Cyrus – Defender, Ty Harden – Defender, Joevin Jones – Defender, Chris Ritter – Midfielder, Matt Watson – Midfielder, Patrick Nyarko – Midfielder, Jack Harrison – Midfielder, Harry Shipp – Midfielder and Jason Johnson – Forward

Key Player:

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David Accam – The Fire forward has the pace to punish opposition defences across MLS. This is a big campaign coming for him and as Chicago’s top scorer with ten goals last term, he will be hoping to improve on that and prove his worth as a Designated Player.

One to Watch:

Brandon Vincent – The young American left-back was drafted with the fourth overall pick of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft and will be expected to come straight in and deliver for Chicago. He made his USMNT debut against Canada at the start of February and big things are expected of the 21-year-old defender out of Stanford. Joevin Jones has moved on and that left-back spot now looks like Vincent’s to own.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 10th – It may make for bleak reading for Fire fans but with the current squad it is hard to see any improvement on last season’s performance. Chicago have lost far more players than they have signed and they could struggle from the outset. They lost seven of their last eight games of the 2015 campaign and things will be tough if they don’t get off to a good start. They do, however, have five home games in their first seven MLS fixtures and need to make the most of that.

What are you expecting from Chicago Fire in 2016?