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Fire Wed Apr 02 2008

What's New? What Isn't?

The Chicago Fire's home opener against the New England Revolution kicks off at Toyota Park tomorrow night at 7pm.

It’s been a traumatic offseason for the Fire. Coach Juan Osorio quit after just half a season to take a job with the New York Red Bulls. The Fire attempted to hire John Spencer, assistant coach of the champion Houston Dynamo, but he very publicly turned the job down. This led to Assistant Coach Denis Hamlet finally getting the job he’d been passed over for twice.

Osorio and Spencer aren’t the only people to turn down the Fire recently. The Fire failed to re-sign starting goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who left for lower division English side Queens Park Rangers. Columbian defender Wilman Conde, an Osorio recruit unhappy about the coaching departure is telling anyone who will listen that he'd really like to go to New York too. On top of that, Dominic Cervi, the goalie drafted by the Fire in the first round, couldn’t work out terms for a contract with the Fire. It’s led to a lot of Fire fans questioning just why nobody wants to play for this club anymore, including this article from original GM Peter Wilt.

A few other notable departures: Shortly before abandoning the Fire, Osorio left Ivan Guerrero unprotected in the expansion draft and he was snapped up by San Jose; Jim Curtin moved to Chivas USA; Paulo Wanchope retired six months too late; and Captain Chris Armas also retired at pretty much the right time.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Armas has joined the coaching staff as an assistant where he'll certainly be valuable. Frank Klopas has been named Technical Director, which means working on player development, scouting, and apparently talking to the coaches in earpieces while viewing the games from a higher vantage point on game days. Mike Jeffries is back as an assistant after a stint as the head coach for Dallas and Duke University. So the technical staff is stacked with people that were around when the club began. CJ Brown, the only player left that has been there continuously since 1998, has been deservedly named captain. All this means there is still some sense of tradition left within the club. That should be comforting to Fire fans looking to hold on to something in a relatively young and rapidly changing league.

On the field, the Fire definitely seem to be trying to play a more attacking style of soccer. They’ve acquired Polish striker Tomasz Frankowski and re-acquired Costa Rican striker and 2006 MVP Andy Herron. The midfield consists of the creative trio of Justin Mapp, Chris Rolfe, and Blanco, with Logan…Pause doing the defensive work behind them. In the first game of the season against Real Salt Lake the results were pretty mixed. The overall performance was poor with …Pause overworked, the attacking players not seeing much of the ball, and a lot of people wondering why Rolfe, the team's most proven striker was toiling around in midfield. But Blanco was able to produce a moment of magic to tie the game in injury time, providing an early answer to the question of whether or not he’ll be able to follow up on his fantastic performances last season.

A few other questions for this season:
Can Logan…Pause fill Chris Armas’ shoes? Can anyone, really? Can Denis Hamlet prove all the people who never thought he’d make it as a head coach wrong? Can Justin Mapp and Chris Rolfe stay healthy for an entire season? Can a disgruntled Wilman Conde be a professional? Can someone on this team break double digits in goalscoring? Can the Fire beat New England when it matters?

We won’t get an answer to that last one until the playoffs (hopefully) roll around for the Fire in the fall, but a win on Thursday night would certainly not be a bad start.

 
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