Photo by Tracy Allen/ISIphotos.com
By DAVID GUBALA
For the Chicago Fire, consistency is the magic word.
After having one of strongest season finishes in club history in 2011, the Chicago Fire have been keen on keeping the same core together heading into the 2012 season.
With leading scorer Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko returning to spearhead the attack, Orr Barouch signed after being on loan last season, rising goalkeeper Sean Johnson having the starting job to himself, second-year defender Jalil Anibaba set to build off his solid rookie campaign and a talented pool of midfielders to choose from, Fire coach Frank Klopas is optomistic about his flexibility as the club seeks a consistent showing after last year's uneven season.
"We've been trying to create depth in every position within the team," Klopas said. "I think looking at it, we've been trying to bring at least two solid players in every position, and that's what has been our goal from the beginning."
Here is a closer look at the Fire ahead of the 2012 season:
CHICAGO FIRE 2012 MLS SEASON PREVIEW
2011 FINISH: 9-9-16, 43 points (sixth in Eastern Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: M Rafael Robayo, F Federico Puppo, F Kheli Dube, D Austin Berry, GK Jay Nolly
KEY LOSSES: M Baggio Husidic, F Diego Chaves, D Yamith Cuesta, D Josip Mikulic, F Cristian Nazarit, F Gabriel Ferrari, GK Jon Conway
Despite the club's additions and depth chart, Fire fans wonder where captain Logan Pause will find himself amongst this congested midfield group. With names like Pavel Pardo, Sebastian Grazzini, Rafael Robayo, Daniel Paladini and Marco Pappa, it will be interesting as to how each player's role develops.
"I don't necessarily know if my role will change or not," said Pause, who put in time both centrally and on the right last season. "The reality of it is that we want to win, and the staff and the organization are going to put out the best possible roster we have to help that."
With the club's midfield depth being a strength, Klopas is prepared to trot out a 4-4-2 while not necessarily sticking to one midfield formula.
"That’s our system of play that we’re going to use, whether we play diamond, or flat, we have a lot of different players that deal with different positions, so we should be good on that."
While the season nears, the Fire are not yet done crafting the roster. Still fighting for a place on the team are a number of MLS SuperDraftees. Hunter Jumper, Tony Walls and Lucky Mkosana still await their fate as First Kick approaches.
"All of the new guys bring different qualities," Pause said. "I think our staff have done a good job in scouting and bringing a young crop of players that can step in and help. The likes of Hunter [Jumper], Austin [Berry] and Tony Walls all add something different and it’s something this league needs."
Mkosana’s preseason has been a roller coaster ride. The Dartmouth student is switching off with his commitments with school and professional soccer. Klopas said that the club will be taking a closer look at him when hey return back to Toyota Park after competing in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
"It’s been difficult with Lucky because of the situation with his school," said Klopas. "He comes and goes, so we are going to have to bring him back to Chicago with us and have an opportunity with him, now that school is done, to take a look at him. He comes for four, five days and then he leaves so it’s been difficult for him."
Another trialist that Klopas revealed he is close to signing is goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi. The 23-year-old Italian keeper came up through the Inter Milan youth system and has made a few appearances in the Italian youth national team set-up. His impressive performance on Wednesday against the Columbus Crew seemingly was the decider for Klopas.
"I thought he had a good performance yesterday," Klopas said. "He’s a young goalkeeper, comes with a lot of experience and he’s a guy that we want to try and keep in our roster."
As for the club's back line, it could be getting a massive boost in quality after Klopas revealed he is interested in signing German national team centerback Arne Friedrich. Friedrich, currently out of contract, has played a big role for Germany in major competitions over the last few years and would make for a fine addition to the defense.
"That’s someone that we are looking into and we do have an interest in," Klopas said. "For right now, that’s all I can say, but we are going to be bringing in another central defender."