'12 Season Preview: Chicago aiming to build on late-season charge

The Chicago Fire could enjoy a successful 2012 season if the club carries over the blazing form it showed late in 2011 into the new campaign.

Chicago looked dead in the water in the playoff race as it spent much of the season toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference with the New England Revolution and Toronto FC.

But the Fire turned their fortunes around late, posting a 7-2-1 record over their last nine games to make a late charge for the postseason. The club ultimately came up short as they finished the regular season sixth in the East on 43 points, three shy of a playoff berth.

It would not be far-fetched to say that Chicago is not far off from making the playoffs, though.

Dominic Oduro, who joined the club from the Houston Dynamo one game into the 2011 season, enjoyed a starring role under coach Frank Klopas, scoring a team- high 12 goals.

"If he makes good runs, the ball is going to be there," Klopas said of Oduro. "I don't see any reason why he shouldn't repeat the season he had last year."

The 26-year-old striker formed a nice partnership with Patrick Nyarko, who led the Fire with nine assists in 2011.

If Nyarko and Oduro can rekindle their deadly chemistry, it could spark the Fire to another impressive run.

Playmakers Marco Pappa and Sebastian Grazzini will be looking to feed the Oduro-Nyarko duo up top.

Pappa, still only 24, continued his fine form with the Fire last year, netting eight goals and adding two assists, while Grazzini proved to be a valuable mid-season pickup as the Argentine contributed five goals and four assists in only 11 appearances.

Chicago also shored up its back line in the offseason with the addition of Arne Friedrich.

The German defender brings a wealth of experience to the Fire after a superb career in the Bundesliga, where he most notably played for Hertha Berlin. Friedrich has also featured for the German national team 82 times, taking part the past two World Cups and two European Championships.

2011 IN REVIEW: After a slow start that saw the club toiling in the bottom three of the Eastern Conference, Chicago turned on the after-burners late in a push for a postseason berth. Unfortunately it fell just short, ending the regular season in sixth place on 43 points.

ACQUISITIONS: Austin Berry (D), Kheli Dube (F), Arne Friedrich (D), Hunter Jumper (D), Lucky Mkosana (F), Jay Nolly (GK), Federico Puppo (F), Rafael Robayo (M), Paulo Tornaghi (GK), Tony Walls (M).

LOSSES: Diego Chaves (F), Jon Conway (GK), Alex Dufty (GK), Gabriel Ferrari (F), Baggio Husidic (M), Christian Nazarit (F).

OUTLOOK: With standout goalkeeper Sean Johnson, a back line balanced with experience and youth with the likes of Friedrich, Gonzalo Segares, Cory Gibbs, and Jalil Anibaba, a strong midfield presence with Pappa, Grazzini, Logan Pause, and Pavel Pardo, and the dynamic duo of Nyarko and Oduro up front, the Fire have a great nucleus of young players that can help the club challenge for a playoff spot. It will be up to Klopas to bring consistency so that they aren't looking to make up a lot of ground down the stretch. The Fire are not serious contenders, but if they are able to secure a playoff spot, they will not be an easy out.