It's been a rough couple of seasons for the Chicago Fire and they will look to improve on their last place finish last season.
Chicago finished dead last in the MLS last season with the Fire only having 30 points on the season. Despite a last gasp playoff push, the Fire's inconsistent form caused a lot of missed opportunities.
They were one of the lowest scoring teams in the MLS and were tied for giving up the most goals this season. This team really needs some work.
They recently hired a new coach in Veljko Paunović, who most recently coached the Serbian U-20 to the FIFA World Cup U-20 championship. Chicago will hope that the former player, who one time played in the MLS, can help Chicago out of the bottom of the standings.
Here are the two biggest storylines to look for this season.
Can the defense improved?
The Fire were horrendous on the defensive end last season. Chicago gave up 58 goals last year and need to make changes at the back.
A lot of those goals also came at the end of games, costing the Fire precious points.
They recently let long time center back Jeff Larentowicz walk in free agency. Chicago will miss his presence at the back as he was the leader for Chicago. He also took a lot of the penalties for Chicago as well.
But the Fire made a good signing as they signed a young defender named Johan Kappelhof who is coming from FC Groningen. The Dutch defender has experiencing playing in the Europa League, experience that could come in handy in the MLS. He was signed to a three-year deal.
Although losing a veteran like Larentowicz hurts, signing a younger defender with European experience was a smart signing. There is hope for this Fire defense.
The loss of Harry Shipp
Losing Harry Shipp was a brutal blow to the Fire. On February 13th the Fire decided to trade the young midfielder to the Montreal Impact. Chicago received allocation money in return.
Although Chicago got money back that they can use to make a new signing, this was a big loss to the Fire. It was a baffling move by the Fire front office.
Shipp was Chicago's best player last year and was one of the top midfielders in the league. He led the team with eight assists and also scored three goals for the club. Shipp was the creative genius in the midfield and played well considering the inconsistencies the Fire had.
Now Chicago will be without their best attacking mid and expect a regression in offense. Unless one of the youngsters step up or one of the Chicago strikers/wingers have a big year, Chicago will drop in offensive production. One player to watch out for however is David Accam. His pace was deadly for Chicago and he created a lot of chances for Chicago. Look for him to have another good year on the wing for Chicago.
The Fire certainly have a lot of work to do and cleaning house leaves a feeling of a fresh start for the club. But they have to get things in order as they prepare for NYFC on March 6th.