Projection: The Crew took TFC pretty damn far in the Eastern Conference Final last year before Jozy Altidore won that series. They won’t be that good again this year, but they still have a playoff team.
7. Chicago Fire
What’s To Like: This team underwent a remarkable transformation last year – from a footnote in this decade to a real contender. In the late spring and early summer before Bastian Schweinsteiger’s injury, no team in the league was playing better soccer.
The team did good work to bring Schweinsteiger back for another year, as the team pretty much went how he went last season.
Schweinsteiger was key to a lot of what Chicago did last year, which, at its best, was pretty as hell. They controlled games through possession and moved the ball really well, getting their fullbacks – the great duo of Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent – involved, and getting tap-ins for Nemanja Nikolic.
Veljko Paunovic is a sharp coach, Nelson Rodriguez is a good, aggressive GM, and it’s year three for both of them in Chicago. Moving time.
What’s Not To Like: David Accam’s departure – which was understandable given his history with the club and the money he commanded – does leave a big hole.
Accam might not have been Chicago’s best attacking player last year, but he was certainly their most dangerous. He attracted a lot of attention from defenses and won a handful of games on his own.
Who replaces him? There’s no obvious answer. The club hasn’t yet landed a winger or #10 in the transfer market, and Arturo Alvarez and Michael deLeeuw, good depth last year, are both gone.
There’s also the matter of Schweinsteiger’s health (the chances he plays 30 games seem extremely low), and the eminent regression of Nemanja Nikolic, who scored all 24 of his goals last season from inside the box.
Right now, the Fire are slated to start the season with less talent than they ended last season with. That’s cause for concern.
Watchability: Chicago was a really good passing team with Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty in the lineup last year, and while Toyota Park is rarely full, Dan Kelly is one of the league’s best game-callers.
Projection: The East is better than it was last year, and it looks like Chicago is going to be slightly worse. They’ll be in the hunt for the playoffs, but a cut below where they were in 2017.