Fire

Five questions for the Fire in 2016

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Five questions for the Fire in 2016

The 2016 Major League Soccer season is just three days away. Every team’s opening match will be on Sunday, March 6.

The Chicago Fire kick things off at 1 p.m. against New York City FC on CSN Chicago. What will the team look like when it takes the field?

So many new faces have come in. More than half the roster was acquired in the offseason. That makes for a lot of question marks about the team.

With that in mind here are five of the biggest questions facing the team as the 2016 season unfolds.

How will the brand new defense fare?

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said reworking and improving the defense was a top priority in the offseason. Only two defenders, Eric Gehrig and Patrick Doody, are back from last season. First round draft picks Brandon Vincent and Jonathan Campbell, internationals Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos and MLS free agent Michael Harrington have been added.

After conceding the most goals in the league in 2015 (58), how this unit fares will have a massive influence on how successful the Fire are in 2016.

[MORE: Watch the season premiere of Fire All-Access]

How will Paunovic’s system look?

First-year coach Veljko Paunovic has the tough task of turning around a last place team with a largely rebuilt roster. The changes may be for the best, but that means the team will have to learn quickly how to play in his style. Based on the preseason it appears the Fire will try to build out of the back and high press. Paunovic showed some tactical flexibility, something he has talked about throughout the preseason, in Saturday’s win at Portland. How well his adjustments and style work will be something to watch.

What midseason moves will be made?

Rodriguez said on Monday that the team is still looking to acquire players and is in negotiations with some foreign-based players. After focusing on defense in the offseason, Rodriguez said that central midfield is the new priority. In addition, there aren’t many wide players on the roster. Only David Accam, Arturo Alvarez and rookies Joey Calistri and Alex Morrell appear to be primarily wide players.

On top of that the Fire only have two forwards, three if you count Accam as a forward, in Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike. Rodriguez has mentioned wanting to add depth at forward, but that sounds like a lower priority at the moment.

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Can the young players step up?

The Fire have five rookies and three second-year players. Nine players are 23 or younger when you throw in 20-year-old Ramos. Given how much has been said about Paunovic’s history working with younger players, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

How much will they play? Will they make notable improvement throughout the season?

If the preseason is any indicator, only two or three of the younger players will start the season opener. If more are able to crack the starting lineup in the short-term that could be a sign of Paunovic’s willingness to play youth.

Will the Fire make the playoffs?

This is ultimately the biggest question. None of the above matters as much as the bottom line.

The Fire have been a struggling franchise, going six years with just one postseason appearance. A playoff appearance would restore some excitement in the fan base and give hope that the team is headed in the right direction. Enough pieces have been added to believe things will change, but how much improvement can be made in one offseason?

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.