The Fire will return to the pitch for regular season action March 9 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California as they take on Chivas USA. The game will be the last MLS regular season match ever played between the two teams before Chivas USA undergoes and expected rebrand over the offseason after being purchased by Major League Soccer.
The Fire got off to a slow start in 2013, collecting just seven points in their first ten matches and not scoring a goal until the fourth game of the year, but the midseason acquisition of Mike Magee turned the team’s fortunes around, and the team remained in playoff contention going into the final match of the season.
With plenty of new faces, including a new head coach, the Fire will be put to the test against an improved Eastern Conference as it aims to make the playoffs for the second time in five seasons.
In and Out – In what was perhaps the most significant pair of moves the club made in the offseason, the club parted ways with incumbent Head Coach Frank Klopas, who was later hired by the Montreal Impact, and hired Frank Yallop as his successor. The Fire overhauled its defense with a trio of trades: acquiring Lovel Palmer from Real Salt Lake, trading Jalil Anibaba to Seattle Sounders FC for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni and trading Austin Berry to the Philadelphia Union. With starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson potentially seeing team with the United States national team before and during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the Fire acquired Kyle Reynish from the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League to replace Paolo Tornaghi as his backup. Designated Player midfielder Arevalo Rios, midfielder Joel Lindpere and forward Maicon Santos highlight the list of players who had their options declined by the team. Daniel Paladini was traded to the Columbus Crew for a draft pick.
Returning – Both forward Chris Rolfe and defensive midfielder Logan Pause initially had their options declined by the club, before being re-signed with a different set of contract terms. Forward Orr Barouch returned from his loan to Israeli club Bnei Yehuda. Additionally, former Fire center back and Ring of Fire member C.J. Brown returned to the club as an assistant coach.
Youth Movement – In addition to retooling the first team’s starting eleven, the Fire also utilized the offseason to acquire new young talent to help the team in the future. The club drafted defender Marco Franco in the SuperDraft and forward Giuseppe Gentile in the Waiver Draft. Both striker Harrison Shipp and midfielder Chris Ritter were signed as Homegrown Players out of the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University, respectively. Benji Joya, 20, was acquired on loan from Santos Laguna, with an option to transfer at the end of the loan period.
2013 Record – Total: 14-13-7 (W-L-T), 6th in Eastern Conference Pre-Magee Debut: 2-7-2 With Magee: 12-6-5
Projected Starting XI:
Mike Magee – Juan Luis Anangono
Patrick Nyarko – Alex – Jeff Larentowicz (captain) – Dilly Duka
Lovel Palmer – Bakary Soumare – Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – Gonzalo Segares
Preseason – The Fire finished the preseason with a 7-1-0 record while conceding just two goals total in the eight games. The team finished their impressive run with a Desert Diamond Cup championship, defeating Chivas Rayadas in the final.
Early Season – The Fire will start the season on the road against Chivas USA. Though Chivas USA finished last in the Western Conference in 2013, the team also defeated the Fire 4-1 at Toyota Park. The Fire then will be faced with strong adversaries at the Portland Timbers and at home against the New York Red Bulls in what will be back-to-back games against the first place teams in each conference from 2013. The Fire will then head to the nation’s capital to face an improved D.C. United squad before taking on the Philadelphia Union at home. The team will complete a stretch of four road matches in six games to start the season on April 12, playing the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.