The Chicago Fire's 2010 season does not merit a report card that you would like to put on the refrigerator.
In closing out the Fire's campaign, a season that resulted in a 9-12-9 record and only 36 points (which ranked 10th out of 16 MLS teams), ESPNChicago.com dishes out its final grades on a year that had some potential, but hit a road block down the stretch.
Coaching: First-year Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos headed into the organization with the hopes of high-possession, active, offense-driven soccer. This incredibly candid coach and his higher-ups said all the right things heading into the season. But quite a bit was lost in the translation on the field. There were scoring droughts, late-game lapses, lack of possession, lack of cohesiveness and ultimately a losing record. The head coach cannot control every aspect of a match on the sidelines, but the build-up to the game and the organization of this roster were completely in De los Cobos' hands. On most occasions, his thought process was puzzling.
Personnel management and judgment were two clear flaws this season. The late preseason release of goalkeeper Jon Busch, the additions of Salvadorans Julio Martinez (eventually released) and Deris Umanzor (mediocre season in the back), the delayed realization that Nery Castillo was not up to speed, questionable substitutions, starting the same tired roster in a two-games-in-three-days stretch, starting some players out of position, dreadful SuperLiga and U.S. Open Cup showings, not testing this team's depth in non-MLS matches or meaningless regular-season games ...
Should I go on?
There is no question that injuries did hamper this team. But the best squads find a way to work through this. De los Cobos and Co. did not, and if the Fire trust him to lead the way again in 2011, he will need positive results right out of the gate -- not to mention some renewed energy. De los Cobos has a full offseason, a full preseason and a roster he should be completely familiar with before a single 2011 regular-season match.
As far as 2010 goes, we need a parent/guardian signature on your report card. GRADE: F
Goalkeeping: It took half of a season, but the Fire found their No. 1 goalkeeper. Rookie Sean Johnson was one of the high points of this season with some highlight reel saves, confidence and aggressiveness from the back. While his record did not show it, Johnson turned into a jewel that Chicago grabbed late in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
Andrew Dykstra had the daunting task of succeeding Busch with less than a week to go heading into the Fire's season opener in New York. Dykstra had some rough patches in there and some communication issues. But toward the end of the season, when Johnson had to miss several matches because of an eye injury, Dykstra's game showed improvement, particularly against D.C. United in the home finale.
Mistakes will still occur from this young goalkeeping duo. But overall, it was not a bad showing from a tandem that did not have an MLS match under its belt heading into the year.
Considering the organization's mishandling of the Busch situation just before the opener, the Fire stumbled upon a bright future in Johnson. GRADE: B-minus
Defense: The Fire's defensive flaws were not in the amount of goals allowed, but rather the late-game lapses and set-piece defending. The most pivotal match of the season was the Fire's 1-1 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Chicago played down a man -- Gonzalo Segares red card -- and managed to gain a late 1-0 lead, only to immediately surrender it in second-half stoppage time off of a set piece. Two points were lost at home, and the Fire managed only three victories over the remaining 10 games.
MLS All-Star Wilman Conde had a disappointing season with some key mishaps in the back. C.J. Brown's play was not as crisp as his younger years, though he still played with the same tenaciousness. De los Cobos played a multitude of guys at left back, and for some reason did not reward Krzysztof Krol's play. Dasan Robinson was hurt. Umanzor did not display many intangibles. Rookie center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe is still a raw unknown. Right back Steven Kinney had a good first year and has some potential.
But for the most part the back line was inconsistent and prone to a key error. There are several question marks within this defense moving forward. GRADE: D
Midfield: The Fire's biggest losses after the 2009 season were in the midfield, with Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe departing the team. But typical forward Patrick Nyarko stepped into the midfield role early on and was Chicago's top player this season with a team-high 10 assists. Marco Pappa scored seven goals, though his shot selection was poor. Logan Pause was steady in defensive midfield.
The Fire brought in Freddie Ljungberg in the midfield and up front, and he brought some intensity and experience that was lacking. Baggio Husidic scored five goals, but he was rarely used in the final third of the season. John Thorrington's continual injury bug is frustrating.
The midfield still lacks a person who has the confidence and stubbornness that Blanco had. GRADE: C
Forward: The Fire took some risks up front and they did not get the production they were hoping for with Nery Castillo and Collins John. John showed he was good for maybe a strong shot or two on goal, but he could not maintain that prowess for an entire match. The out-of-shape Castillo had maybe one mediocre performance, while his other seven ranged from poor to embarrassing.
Brian McBride scored six goals in a more limited role that included only 18 starts. Calen Carr's production probably was more than what some were expecting. He tallied just as many goals as John in about half the playing time.
Castillo and John are still young, and that is the saving grace for Chicago. Both have shown that they can play the game at a high level before. They just didn't show it for the Fire in 2010. GRADE: C-minus