Previous Year Recap
When I sat down to research and write this preview last year, I had two questions, both of which I think still hold going into 2021:
Question #1: When’s the last time Chicago Fire FC could legitimately be described as a “good” team in the MLS landscape?
Question #2: How do I write an interesting preview piece about a club that no one who plays MLS Fantasy on the regular actually thinks has players worth rostering?
A year later the answer to the first question remains the same: 2017 (although a case could be made for 2009 if your mark for being a “good” team involves winning a playoff game). And the answer to the second question? Uh, I’ve still got no clue on that one. But, I’m going to give it a shot.
In 2020 the Fire navigated COVID, a large scale rebranding of the franchise, a return to playing home matches at Soldier Field and a significant turnover of staff and players. The result? The club had a decent season and narrowly missed out on making the playoffs. A year later the Fire and second year manager Raphael Wicky are hoping for progress; however, the consensus take seems to be that the club will still be on the outside looking in when playoff time rolls around.
Fantasy Players to Watch
The Fire have rolled out a 4-2-3-1 in all of their preseason matches thus far so I suspect that formation will hold once the “real” matches start.
Goalkeeper: Bobby Shuttleworth has gotten most of the minutes in preseason and looks to be the preferred starter going into the regular season. He may prove to be a solid budget/Keeperoo play in certain situations.
Defenders: Matt Doyle recently declared Francisco Calvo the club’s most important player for 2021. That may be true, but anyone who’s played MLS fantasy regularly knows that rostering Calvo is generally a complete crap shoot. He might score two goals off of set pieces. He might get a straight red card in the 7th minute of the game. You never know. Beyond Calvo, the club returns Jonathan Bornstein, Johan Kappelhoff, Boris Sekulic and homegrown Mauricio Pineda among others.
Midfielders: Djordje Mihailovic was shipped to Montreal in the offseason but winger Przemyslaw Frankowski, La Liga veteran Alvaro Medran, Gaston Gimenez and young DP Ignacio Aliseda all return. Elliot Collier and Fabian Herbers have also seen playing time in preseason. Stanislav Ivanov, another young winger, was signed in the offseason, but he was injured during preseason and isn’t expected back until late July. Medran and Gimenez generally play more defensive roles for the team so I’ll be keeping my eyes on Frankowski and Aliseda.
Forwards: C.J. Sapong is gone (He signed with Nashville as a free agent during the offseason.) and the club signed young Nigerian Chinonso Offor in December, but DP Robert Beric, back for his second season with the club, is expected to handle most of the duties up top.
Just because the Fire are unlikely to make the playoffs doesn’t mean there won’t be situations where you might decide to incorporate Fire players into your fantasy roster.
On the defensive side I’ve already mentioned Shuttleworth as a budget keeper option. Right back Sekulic has one preseason goal to his credit. Center back Mauricio Pineda has been with the US Men’s U-23 team for the past two months and hasn’t figured in any preseason matches thus far, but he may be worth keeping an eye on.
On the offensive side I’m looking at Beric, Aliseada and Frankowski. I rostered Beric off and on last year when the price and matchup looked right and would consider doing the same this season. Aliseada and Frankowski are on my “interesting budget/bench/switcheroo options to keep an eye on” list.
The Fire host New England to start off the season, then travel to Atlanta and NY Red Bulls before returning to Chicago to face Philadelphia. I don’t think they’ll be favored in any of those matches, except for maybe the Red Bulls fixture. I may be willing to bend my “don’t take road players” rule for that match depending on the results of the Atlanta and New England games.
Potential Starting XI
Based on what I’ve gathered from the preseason matches here’s how I think the team may line up against the Revolution on Saturday, April 17: