Photo by Jeff Vorva
The Fire and Arturo Alvarez (left) hope to be shoving teams around a little more after last year’s team had the worst record in the MSL and forward Michael de Leeuw said the team was “too nice.’’
The nice guys finished last.
The Fire had a Major League Soccer-worst 7-17-10 season in 2016 and Michael de Leeuw, who joined the team in the middle of the season, said he noticed the team was “too nice” both on and off the field.
“Sometime you need some guys to say something,” de Leeuw said. “With what you saw last year…something needed to be said. And when we play away, don’t be so nice against teams who are higher than us. Be aggressive. Get what you can get.’’
There is nowhere to go but up and officials scrambled to mix in what they hope are quality impact players on the roster for 2017. The season opens at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the Fire facing Columbus on the road.
The home opener is at 1 p.m. March 11 against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
At this point, it’s hard to tell if the team will be less nice but on paper, it looks like it has the talent for a drastic improvement.
Some of the new faces to look out for are Nenanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty, Juninho, and goalie Jorge Rodrigo Bava
“We have more guys who are champions,” second-year coach Veljko Paunovic said. “They have more experience. We have guys who know how to deal with difficult situations. Every team goes through the long season facing different situations and challenges.
“You have to have guys on your team who know how to deal with those types of situations.’’
And there are still some quality players returning, including David Accam, who led the Fire in scoring the past two seasons in MLS game with 10 and nine goals respectively.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the old faces and the new faces playing together,” Paunovic said. “We’re very happy to start the season with the players we have. I believe we are in a very good spot right now. We’ll have a lot of challenges – every team in the world has challenges. The preparation that we have made will be very important.
“We obviously have high expectations. We believe we did a great job in the offseason with the acquisitions we have. It’s going to be a better team. It will be more competitive. It will be a team that will bring us a much better season and enjoyment.’’
The preseason ended Saturday with an impressive 4-1 victory over defending Eastern Conference champion Toronto and the Fire finished with a perfect 6-0-0 mark. DeLeeuw had two goals in Saturday’s game.
But that’s the preseason.
“Now the real stuff is coming.” Paunovic said.
“I think everyone did very well. What we have to do now as a club once we come back is do everything to keep that mood that we are in, the positivity that we have, the expectation and hard work. We have to support the players and give them everything they need to recover and start well this season.”
DeLeeuw, who said a playoff bid is a realistic goal for the team, enjoyed the winning in February and hopes it continues.
“It’s good for our confidence, but at the end, every team is starting at zero,” he said.