Anybody who watched the Fire last year knew significant changes were needed. The back line was disjointed, the midfield provided little thrust, and there wasn’t enough up front to convert the rare chances into goals.
In short, it was a team that required a major overhaul and a different level of talent. Entering Friday night’s season opener at the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Fire have delivered the changes after signing Designated Players David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and Shaun Maloney and retooling a roster that missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
But doing that wasn’t just a matter of coach Frank Yallop telling players he was interested and having them form a line to take the Fire’s money. It took more than that – a message that the Fire badly want to reverse the recent results.
“For me, I know Chicago’s a big city and this is the only big soccer club in Chicago and they’re trying to build something not only for the city but also for the country,” said Accam, who isn’t expected to play Friday because of a strained groin. “They want Chicago Fire to be big in the country, and I’m really happy to be part of that project.”
In recent seasons, the Fire haven’t been too big nationally or locally. They’ve made headlines for a clumsy editorial, shoddy field and loss of Jermaine Jones after a blind draw. Their most noteworthy result was the league-record 18 ties from a year ago, something that highlighted both a decent team spirit but also a lack of game-breaking talent.
Maloney, the highest-profile signing, wasn’t blind to the Fire’s recent lack of success. The Scottish international said Yallop “spoke pretty candidly” about what happened in 2014 while chairman Andrew Hauptman was honest about the past few years.
They also outlined the Fire’s ambition and what they want from the club. Maloney also made a personal connection with both, something that got him to Chicago.
“I think with the improvements they’re trying to make I think they need to recruit players and I didn’t want to wait for other people to see exactly what the team was going to be like,” Maloney said. “I wanted to be that catalyst for the manager to try to improve the side.”
It’s early, but Yallop has been encouraged by what he’s seen, though the first test is Friday against the reigning league champions.
“We’ve added a lot of players,” Yallop said. “When you start to play real games (that’s) when you find out what you really have, but I feel the signs are very good.”
NOTE: Midfielder Razvan Cocis (plantar fasciitis) isn’t expected to play Friday night.
2015 CHICAGO FIRE
Last season: 6-10-18 (36 points), ninth place in East, missed playoffs
Key additions: D Adailton, M David Accam, F Kennedy Igboananike, M Shaun Maloney, G Jon Busch
Key losses: F Robert Earnshaw, M Logan Pause, D Gonzalo Segares, D Bakary Soumare, M Grant Ward
Outlook: The Fire should be more fun to watch than the earnest but unskilled group that ended 2014. The big signings and remade roster should be expected to bring a playoff berth, though questions about the back line remain.