Fire face another tumultuous offseason


The Chicago Fire knew what hand they were dealt after the 2009 MLS season.

They knew that Chris Rolfe would not be returning. They knew Gonzalo Segares wanted to try to play overseas. They knew that Cuauhtemoc Blanco would be out of the picture. They knew they wanted a different style of play and bid adieu to Denis Hamlett.

Chicago's hectic offseason came as no surprise.

But after a 2010 campaign with coaching staff adjustments and personnel changes from last offseason through this year's midseason, the question now is how hectic will this offseason be?

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos, technical director Frank Klopas and owner Andrew Hauptman all have stated the brand of soccer they want on the pitch. The execution and translation resulted in only the second season in team history outside of the playoff picture.

"They have an idea of what they wanted to do. It's just we haven't been able to accomplish it and play to the standard that [De los Cobos] wants," retiring Fire defender C.J. Brown said toward the end of the season. "That's frustrating from a player's standpoint. You want to impress your coach. The guys just haven't been able to do that. I think there is an identity. It's just we're not putting it on the field the way they want it to be."

Brown's retirement creates an opening at central defense, and Brian McBride's retirement creates a hole up front. The futures of Freddie Ljungberg and Wilman Conde are uncertain at the moment, and Ljungberg ought to be the team's top priority in bringing him back.

One thing this team desperately needed this year was a sense of continuity. The Fire spent all year toying with their roster like a glob of Silly Putty.

"The continuity of players is very important," Klopas said. "They need to have a good understanding of the system. We were impacted with injuries, and we were not really able to find that core."

Some rumblings arose during the Fire's struggles about the possibility of De los Cobos returning to El Salvador. But as things stand, De los Cobos is set to enter his second season for the Fire in 2011.

"All I can say is that Carlos is committed. I know that he's committed," Klopas said. "He's a guy where this season doesn't sit well with him because we're not in the playoffs."

Brown felt the team's shortcomings were more mental than anything else.

"A lot of it this year, I don't think it was anything about skill, because we have skillful players," Brown said. "I think a lot of it was mental. We made a lot of mental mistakes this year, and I think we need to watch more video and study ourselves a little bit more and try to correct our own little mental mistakes."

That argument certainly holds true for the Fire's string of last-minute goals. Nevertheless, Chicago invested in the likes of Nery Castillo and Collins John -- two incredibly under-performing players this year. Chicago's 2010 MLS All-Stars Marco Pappa and Conde have the talent, but they need to consistently perform at a high level.

Change is a given in MLS, but as an organization you need to get to that point where you know your base of starters and key bench personnel. Continuity was a huge reason why Hamlett's Fire posted conference final appearances in his two seasons at the helm.

No matter how stacked or unstacked the Fire's talent level is, a personnel carousel will slow down the execution of the team's soccer vision. And it remains to be seen if Klopas and De los Cobos are confident enough in what they have in place.

"That's got to come from the coaches, what they feel they're missing or what they want," Brown said. "If [De los Cobos] wants to play a possession game, we have to get a lot of players who can handle playing a possession game."