There was some unfamiliarity among fans and even media attending the Chicago Fire's 2011 season kickoff luncheon on Monday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago.
Just who are some of these Men in Red? It is a natural reaction even if you have wholeheartedly attempted to keep close track of the Fire's offseason.
After missing the postseason for only the second time in the team's history in 2010, Fire technical director Frank Klopas and company went to work as half of last year's squad was not in the blueprint for this upcoming season. Klopas described on Monday how the team's retooling process spanned across "four continents and 12 countries -- more than all other offseasons combined over the club's 14-year history."
Fire fans soon will find out if Chicago's technical staff put together the right pieces when the team plays at FC Dallas on Saturday to open the 2011 MLS campaign.
"The time between our final match on Oct. 23 last year and Jan. 28 when the players reported for training camp was busier than ever for myself and the technical staff, as we took an analytical and rigorous approach in how we could change things heading into 2011," Klopas said in his address to more than 750 luncheon attendees. "The offseason work was a necessary step in improving our squad that achieved results below the standards we expect here in Chicago."
Other than the return of goalkeeper Sean Johnson and a fair number of returnees in the midfield, the projected starting forward and defensive lines should be completely different than 2010.
Fire owner Andrew Hauptman had a chance to drop by the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C., and he expressed an upbeat outlook on what he saw on the pitch.
"I'm encouraged by the work that has gone into this offseason rebuilding the club," Hauptman said. "And I'm optimistic about what lies ahead. I was able to make a recent visit to South Carolina to see the guys play, and I was impressed with the energy, and talent and commitment we are bringing to the pitch this year."
During this preseason, the Fire have taken on a new scheme with a 3-5-2 formation. Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos has attempted to put this system in place, and he said Monday that it is possible that they could rotate between that formation and a more typical 4-4-2.
"I believe that sometimes when we are playing against a team and the other guys have control of the game, the only way that we can change this situation is we change the distribution of our players on the field and we play with a different dynamic," De los Cobos said. "For that reason we are playing like this [in a 3-5-2]. I think the guys understand the idea and they are having good moments on the field in matches. But I'm not sure I will start like this because I know the guys play 4-4-2 and know this format, because they normally play this way."
Paul introduced: Though the team has not officially announced his signing, the Fire did introduce midfielder Davis Paul as part of the 2011 roster at Monday's luncheon. Paul was selected by the Fire in the third round (51st overall) of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
Open tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos and forward Gabriel Ferrari were on hand, but were not introduced on the stage. Chicago plans on securing 28 players for its roster.
Commish chats expansion: MLS commissioner Don Garber attended Monday's luncheon, and afterward the usual topic of expansion popped up. The league has risen to 18 teams this year with the additions of Vancouver and Portland, No. 19 will be Montreal in 2012, and the league is working on No. 20 in New York.
"I don't know where it goes from there," Garber said. "Clearly we'll slow down a little bit after 20, but there are so many other cities in this country that are looking for a professional soccer team, and we'll have to assess where we are after the 20th team joins the league."
Garber wants to see the league expand more in the Midwest and Southeast. Garber has been in discussions with people in Detroit, but it is unclear where the league landscape is headed beyond New York.