Going into season, expectations high for the Fire

By JeffGraveline

Following a tumultuous 2009-10 season in which the Chicago Fire started strong, but hit a midseason skid that caused the team to limp into the Major League Soccer playoffs with an 11-7-12 record. In the playoffs, the Fire made their third consecutive conference final appearance but lost to Real Salt Lake.

For the 2010-11 season, the Fire revamped much of its roster and replaced its head coach, leaving the team much younger than in recent years. Several veterans still dot the roster and will be counted on to help guide the youth movement, including Brian McBride and 11-year Fire veteran defender C.J. Brown.

“Obviously we’re a younger team,” Brown said. “I think our rookie group that has come in are solid soccer players. Hopefully mixing them with us—the veteran guys who have been here for awhile—I think we’re going to have a successful season.”

With Brown continuing to control the field in front of the net, along with other Fire defenders, Andrew Dykstra should have a smooth transition to his new role as keeper for the Fire. Dykstra replaced Jon Busch, 2008 Fire MVP and MLS goalkeeper of the year, who was the Fire’s starting net minder in 2009.

“I don’t think [changing keepers] changes anything,” Brown said. “I mean, we still have to do our job in front of him and when he does play in games that he’s played in, he’s always made big saves for us. We’re just going to ask him to do that again … everybody has confidence in him that he can do the job. I don’t think it’s going to be a big change.”

On the offensive side of the ball, former Fulham Football Club teammates Brian McBride and Collins John will lead the Fire attack from the striker positions.

McBride, a native of Arlington Heights, Ill., is the only American to score a goal in two World Cups. He led the Fire last year with seven goals, despite missing significant time because of a shoulder injury. John has played his entire career in Europe and as a teammate of McBride, scored 20 goals in 95 matches.

At the midfield position, the Fire lost Cuauhtémoc Blanco—its designated player for the past three seasons—to Veracruz, Mexico during the offseason.

Hoping to offset the loss of Blanco, the Fire added Corben Bone from Wake Forest University, who was chosen in the first round of the MLS draft.

“I couldn’t be more excited to come to a club like the Fire,” Bone said. “[The Fire is] so prestigious and has so much legacy and all this stuff, I’m extremely excited.”

While the loss of fan favorite and precision passer Blanco will likely hurt the Fire, the team still remains confident in their abilities and new additions.

That confidence was bolstered slightly, despite losing during the Fire’s first MLS regular season game against the New York Red Bulls.

With Dykstra in net, the Fire allowed only one goal on just 11 shots. The loss dropped the fire to 0-1 on the season and into third place in the MLS Eastern Conference, but didn’t dampen the expectations that Bone has for himself and his new teammates.

“We can do some damage in the league for sure,” Bone said. “This has always been a really successful club and I don’t think it’s going to stop this year.  I think expectations this year are going to be as good as we can be and I think that’s going to be really good.”

The Chicago Fire holds its home opener at Toyota Park, 7300 W. 71st St., on April 10 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at TicketMaster.com or Chicago-Fire.com.

For more information about the Chicago Fire, visit Chicago-Fire.com.