Updates to Original Post
- It was left out the Michael De Leeuw will be out for the fist part of the season due. He’s currently recovering for an ACL injury.
- Without De Leeuw, Chicago’s formation could look more like a 4-2-4 or 4-3-3. I’d expect Bakero, Nikolic, and Solignac would be the first choices up top. The number 10 spot is again difficult to predict but it could go to youngsters Drew Connor or Daniel Johnson who both spent some time at this position last year.
2017 Chicago Fire Review
After finishing at the bottom of the league in 2015 and 2016, Chicago needed to make some big changes. Mission accomplished! Head coach Veljko Paunovic bolstered his attack by adding Hungarian international Nemanja Nikolic. He schored up the midfield with former New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty, Juninho, and German international Bastian Schweinsteiger. The result was one of the best seasons in Chicago Fire history which included a 3rd place finish in the East, a deep Open Cup run, a return to the MLS Cup Playoff, and a Golden Boot winner.
After turning things around, it’s no surprise that the Fire have made few changes going into the 2018 season. Several fringe players have been released, but a few big name and popular fantasy picks will also not return. The first is Center back Joao Meira who’s contract expired at the end of 2017. Meira earned 157 fantasy points last year and was the Fire’s most expensive defender. Next is Midfielder Juninho who was on loan from Club Tihuana. Unfortunately, his previous offensive success did not follow and injuries kept him on the bench for much of the season. Finally, the biggest exit for Chicago is forward David Accam who was traded to Philadelphia. Accam scored 14 goals and earned 8 assists in 2017 but was also a source of drama at times.
To fill the gaps left by these departures, the Fire have primarily looked at the collegiate level. Indiana University defender Grant Lillard and Syracuse University D-Mid Mo Adams have the potential to shore things up in the back but will likely start out as depth players. Jon Bakero, on the other had, was a standout player at both Wake Forrest and the MLS Combine and posses an ability to create scoring chances that could see him break into the starting XI.
Expected/Predicted Starting XI Picture
I mentioned before, don’t’ expect much to change for Chicago, but the loss of Accam does create questions. Last year they favored the 4-2-3-1, but without a true Number 10, a 4-2-2-2 could be the formation. The center back pairing could see some rotation with Christian Dean, Jonathan Campbell, and Lillard. Matt Polster is the likely right wing, but could be moved forward if Rafael Ramos plays well. Up top, Michael De Leeuw and Luis Solignac could swap back and forth for pairing up with Nemanja Nikolic and I think Bakero will be able to beak into the starting XI.
This formation could all get shaken up if Chicago acquires a true number 10.
Creativity was not something the Fire were known for in 2017. The basic plan was to try to get the ball to Nikolic or Accam and then rely on their goal scoring ability. However you never knew exactly who to expect those key passes to come from. Ten players earned at least 4 assists in 2017 but this required pushing numbers forward. While this is entertaining for fans, it results in making Chicago vulnerable to counterattack. Finding a true number 10 will go a long way to fixing this problem. Without a true number 10, Fantasy managers should keep an eye on preseason to see if any players step up.
The Fire have a lot of attacking potential in their current squad, so it’s likely they take a page from the Red Bulls’ playbook and try a high pressure approach. With Schweinsteiger and McCarty providing protection in the midfield, Nikolic , Solignac, De Leeuw, and possible Bakero can keep a loose formation and try to exploit any cracks that develop.
On the other end of the field, the Fire have a solid group of defenders. This could result in some rotation frustrations for fantasy managers, but Chicago should continue to be solid.
2018 Expectations and Closing Fantasy Thoughts
Expect Chicago to once again be a team that has several attractive fantasy options and will make a run at MLS Cup. The offensive potential of Nikolic could result in a lot of points and the reliable point production of Schweinsteiger and McCarty could be just what you need during a DGW. They also have several young players who could be great value picks if they earn consistent starting picks.