Fire seek offensive awakening

Last year's Chicago Fire squad was a middle-of-the-pack MLS team on the offensive end, scoring 37 goals in 30 games. But there were many dry spells along the way, as the offense was shut out seven times during the final two months and 10 times overall in 2010.

There were moments of strong possession, but the finishing was lacking, as was the cohesiveness from line to line. Since last October, many of last year's Fire players have moved on.

Arlington Heights native and U.S. Soccer legend Brian McBride retired. McBride's former Fulham teammate Collins John, who albeit had a disappointing three-goal showing, was released and latched on to Gabala FC. And in the midfield, the Fire lost some production now that Freddie Ljungberg (Celtic), Peter Lowry (Portland Timbers) and frequently injured John Thorrington (Vancouver Whitecaps) have departed.

This season the Fire signed a pair of Uruguayan forwards in Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves, who have had only several weeks to get acclimated to the new club. Puerari saw more preseason action than Chaves, who had one of his matches shortened by a first-half red card.

"Diego is a very good player," Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic said. "Even though he might not look big, he's big on the ball. He's quick. He's not a typical No. 9. I'd say he's more of a 10, where he drops and gets the ball, plays it through the middle, attacks, and he's good one-on-one and good at passing. Gaston is more of a speedy player. He's really cheeky on the ball. They both complement each other. They kind of drop in and play like midfielders almost."

Until the Uruguayan connection can establish itself, the focal point of the Fire offense rests in the midfield, where Chicago returns its leading goal scorer in Marco Pappa and its leading assists man in Patrick Nyarko. Pappa had seven goals and Nyarko dished out 10 assists last season.

Their roles remain the same for this season, which starts on Saturday at FC Dallas. Pappa will need to assume the responsibility of being the Fire's go-to player. He had three of the Fire's four preseason goals during first-team matches.

"He's one of the best players I've played with, especially on the offensive end," Nyarko said of Pappa. "He's unbelievable. He's definitely one of our key guys to produce, and you've seen flashes of what he's capable of. He started the [2010] season really hot and was confident. It dipped a bit, but we all know his potential, and I know he has it in him to take on that leading role this year."

The Fire took an approach this offseason that stemmed away from getting big-name players and focused more on styles and characteristics that match the possession and attractive style that head coach Carlos de los Cobos and the Fire technical staff wanted at the beginning of last season.

De los Cobos is hoping the new mix of players will translate into more scoring chances.

"We need to improve the offensive work [from last year]," De los Cobos said. "We are working hard to create different moments to attack, and the most important thing is we have some guys like Chaves and Puerari, and young guys like Orr [Barouch] and [currently unannounced signing Gabriel] Ferrari who have qualities. I think it's only a matter of time to know each other and work with each other."

The Fire want to increase their offensive presence as they are going with a five-man midfield and two attacking players up top. De los Cobos wants to see offensive production from front to back.

"Everybody needs to be involved in this role," De los Cobos said. "When the offensive midfield is moving forward, we need to help the team with assistance -- with scoring, too. Even with dead balls, because dead balls are another tool where we can take advantage. Maybe the backs, when they are arriving to finish some corner kicks. I think we need to share our responsibility and everybody needs to be involved."