Only the penalty-saving heroics of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando came between Chicago and a coveted spot in last year's MLS Cup final.
In spite of the success, the Fire underwent a host of changes. Denis Hamlett was let go, Chris Rolfe and Gonzalo Segares took off for Europe, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco headed home to Mexico. Jon Busch was cut loose this week, with the club tapping second-year goalie Andrew Dykstra as starter.
To say these were bold moves is an understatement, but Chicago still retains a solid core of MLS veterans, and new coach Carlos de los Cobos has added a few pieces of his own since taking over. Chicago should find themselves in the mix of things in the Eastern Conference in 2010.
Here's a look at the 2010 Chicago Fire:
2010 CHICAGO FIRE
Players to Watch – Collins John, Brian McBride, Andrew Dykstra, Baggio Husidic
Key Arrivals - Collins John, Julio Martinez, Krzysztof Krol, Corben Bone, Sean Johnson, Kwame Watson-Siriboe
Key Departures – Jon Busch, Chris Rolfe, Gonzalo Segares, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Brandon Prideaux
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
—————Collins John———Brian McBride—————
Marco Pappa———-John Thorrington———Julio Martinez
Krzysztof Krol—-C.J. Brown–Wilman Conde—–Tim Ward
Big Question - Can Andrew Dykstra fill Busch's shoes? It seems a bit odd for Chicago to jettison former goalkeeper of the year Jon Busch this close to the start of 2010, but Frank Klopas and Carlos de los Cobos are confident Dykstra will be up to the challenge as a number one goalkeeper in MLS. The risk factor is immense, particular for a team that could be in contention for the MLS Cup.
X-Factor – Aside from Dykstra, the Fire took another risk on former Fulham man Collins John. At just 24 years old John performed well in a pre-season trial after his European career went off the rails. John has his chance to prove himself once more, and it would be a huge benefit to the Fire attack if he can.
A former teammate of McBride's at Fulham, if the two have the potential to form a lethal strike partnership. If John isn't up to snuff, Chicago does have Patrick Nyarko to turn to.
The search to replace Segares is also continuing. De los Cobos thinks new signing Krzysztof Krol, brought in on loan, doesn't have the pace to handle the left back spot. The club had Deris Umanzor on trial and are reportedly trying to bring him in from C.D. Aguila in El Salvador.
Outlook – For a team that came within penalty kicks of an MLS Cup Final, Chicago underwent a drastic makeover. Whether that results in mproved results remains to be seen, but the Fire still boasts nucleus of established MLS talent that will help Chicago reach the playoffs.
Whether the Fire does anything in the post-season will depend heavily on what new faces such as John, Dystra and Martinez are able to do. If they all perform well, Chicago could once again challenge Columbus for the Eastern Conference title.