Chicago Fire FC kick off preseason with high hopes of ending playoff drought

Chicago Fire FC have officially started their preseason training camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where they will stay until early February before moving to California for the second half of the camp. The team is led by new head coach Frank Klopas, who was appointed in December after the departure of Raphael Wicky.

Klopas, a former Fire player and coach, is excited to be back with the club and has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve. “It’s a new year, new beginning,” he said. “Obviously a lot of excitement to finally be back together after a long time for us for 64 days.”

He added, “I don’t take this opportunity in any light way. I’m really honored to be in this position, and I will do whatever it takes to help this club become successful.”

Chicago Fire FC kick off preseason with high hopes of ending playoff drought
Chicago Fire FC kick off preseason with high hopes of ending playoff drought

The team aims to improve on both ends of the pitch

The Fire have missed the playoffs each of the last six seasons and have only made the postseason once since 2012. In 2023, they finished 11th in the Eastern Conference, nine points behind the seventh-placed New York Red Bulls. Klopas believes the team was close to making the cut and needs to improve on some aspects of their game.

“We were nine points away [in 2023] even with a sub-par season, not accomplishing some of the things we wanted to during the season,” he said. “We still weren’t very far off. There were a few incidents where, had they gone better, we would have found ourselves in the playoffs where we want to be.”

One of the areas that Klopas wants to improve is the team’s offense, which scored only 39 goals in 34 games, the third-lowest in the league. The team relied heavily on young striker Jhon Duran, who scored 14 goals and was named the MLS Rookie of the Year. However, Duran has been linked with a move to Europe and his future with the Fire is uncertain.

The team also needs to get more out of their designated players, Xherdan Shaqiri and Jairo Torres, who joined the club in 2023 but failed to make a significant impact. Shaqiri, a former Liverpool and Bayern Munich star, scored four goals and assisted three in 18 appearances, while Torres, a Colombian international, scored one goal and assisted two in 15 appearances.

Klopas is confident that both players will perform better in 2024, especially with a full preseason under their belts. “I think they will be much more comfortable this year,” he said. “They have a lot of quality and experience, and they can help us create and score more goals.”

On the other hand, the team’s defense was solid in 2023, keeping 12 clean sheets and conceding 45 goals, the fifth-lowest in the league. The team’s backline was anchored by center backs Mauricio Pineda and Carlos Teran, who formed a strong partnership and earned call-ups to the US and Colombia national teams, respectively.

The team also added a new right back, Arnaud Souquet, who joined from French club Montpellier. Souquet is expected to provide more attacking threat and width on the right flank, replacing Boris Sekulic, who left the club after two seasons.

The team faces a tough schedule and a competitive conference

The Fire will have to face a challenging schedule in 2024, as they will play 34 games in 32 weeks, with 17 home games and 17 away games. The team will also have to deal with the travel and weather conditions of playing in different regions and time zones.

The team’s first game of the season will be on February 26, when they will host the defending MLS Cup champions, Columbus Crew SC, at Soldier Field. The team will also face other strong opponents in the Eastern Conference, such as New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, New York City FC, and Atlanta United.

The team’s goal is to finish in the top seven of the conference and qualify for the playoffs, something they have not done since 2017. Klopas is optimistic that the team can achieve that objective and compete with the best teams in the league.

“We have a lot of talent and potential in this team,” he said. “We have a good mix of young and experienced players, and we have a strong mentality and work ethic. We have to be consistent and focused throughout the season, and we have to play with passion and pride for this club and this city.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *