Bridgeview, IL – For a two-month period last season, the Chicago Fire looked like one of the best teams in Major League Soccer.
Head coach Frank Klopas saw his side win seven of eight games from August to the end of September, and it appeared that Chicago was peaking at the right time.
The Fire was poised to claim one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference, but then things fell apart.
After closing the campaign with one win from its final five regular season contests, the Fire slipped to fourth in the East, and proceeded to lose at home to the Houston Dynamo in a one-game playoff, ending the season.
Reaching the playoffs was a step in the right direction for Klopas and his team, but the boss must now find a way to recapture its late-summer form at the start of the new campaign.
One of the bright spots for the Fire over the second half of the season was the play of strikers Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald, who both joined the team during the season.
The two combined to score 12 goals with seven assists, and they should benefit from having a full offseason of training together to strengthen their partnership.
They will be counted on to help fill the void left by the departure of fellow forward Dominic Oduro, who was traded to the Columbus Crew in the offseason.
In the trade, Chicago acquired midfielder Dilly Duka and the MLS rights to Robbie Rogers, who abruptly announced his retirement from the game after announcing that he was gay last week.
One of the biggest question marks facing the Fire this season will be how the midfield comes together with the departure of Alvaro Fernandez on loan and the retirement of veteran Pavel Pardo.
Fernandez was instrumental in Chicago's surge toward the end of the season as he scored two goals with one assist in 13 games while providing a steady presence in the midfield since joining during the season.
Pardo was also a key piece having started 27 games, but Klopas made sure to bring in the type of reinforcements that can overcome those losses.
In addition to Duka, Klopas was able to bring in both Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz.
How quickly those two are able to jell in midfield could be key to the early- season success of the club.
2012 IN REVIEW: After a three-year absence, the Fire returned to the postseason in the second year under Klopas. Unfortunately, it was not a long stay as the Houston Dynamo came to Toyota Park and bounced Chicago, 2-1, in the opening round. The Fire could have secured a better seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but a run of just one win in five games to close out the campaign dropped them further down the table.
ACQUISITIONS: Maicon Santos (F), Joel Lindpere (M), Jeff Larentowicz (M), Brendan King (M), Dilly Duka (M).
LOSSES: Jay Nolly (GK), Pavel Pardo (M), Guillermo Franco (F), Alvaro Fernandez (M), Federico Puppo (F), Dominic Oduro (F).
OUTLOOK: A full season with Rolfe up top will bode well for Klopas, but outside of MacDonald, the team is a little short on depth at the forward position. A new-look midfield could take some time to come together, so early on the club might need to rely on a back line anchored by Arne Friedrich, Jalil Anibaba and last season's MLS Rookie of the Year, Austin Berry. The Fire should once again be among the top teams in the East, but a bit more consistency could see them take the next step come playoff time.