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Fire season preview: Team focusing on faster start, defense

Chicago Fire Soccer Club new head coach Frank Yallop answers questions news conference after being introduced by owner Andrew Hauptman

Chicago Fire Soccer Club new head coach Frank Yallop answers questions at a news conference after being introduced by owner Andrew Hauptman, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Last season: 14-13-7 (49 points), sixth place in Eastern
Conference, missed playoffs.

Key additions: Coach Frank
Yallop, D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, D Patrick Ianni, D Lovel Palmer.

Key losses: D Jalil Anibaba,
D Austin Berry, M Egidio
Arevalo Rios.

Outlook: The Fire must get off to a better start than it did in 2013. An improved defense and
Yallop’s presence might deliver that and a playoff berth.

— Brian Sandalow

Updated: April 10, 2014 6:39AM

Fire star Mike Magee recently was asked what his goals are for the 2014 Major League Soccer season.
Instead of a grand pronouncement, Magee’s response was to beat
Chivas USA in the season opener Sunday.

Though the answer might have been somewhat disappointing for the gathered media, a victory against Chivas USA would help the Fire start better than it did last season, when it opened 1-4-1, played catch-up for most of the season and missed the playoffs after a loss to the New York Red Bulls on the final day of the season.

Obviously, the Fire knows the importance of avoiding another stumble to start 2014.

‘‘We mentioned it right away,’’ coach Frank Yallop said. ‘‘We’ve got to be consistent right through the season. We don’t talk about it a lot, but we know.’’

The Fire certainly learned that the hard way last season. Its strong 4-1-1 end to the season couldn’t make up for its start, leading to the end of Frank Klopas’ tenure and the start of Yallop’s.

Beating Chivas alone wouldn’t reverse that, but it would get the Fire’s season off on the right foot.

‘‘It’s really difficult when you drop so many points early to come back,’’ defender Bakary Soumare said. ‘‘It’s very important early on to just find the chemistry, get some points and get some momentum going.’’

Getting some more victories early isn’t the only change the Fire would like to make. Most notably, Yallop has looked to revamp a
defense that gave up the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference last season (52).

Gone are defenders Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba, and Yallop has brought in Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Lovel Palmer and Patrick Ianni to play with holdovers Soumare and Gonzalo Segares.

Soumare, who likely will be paired with Hurtado in the middle of the back line, has liked what he has seen.

‘‘Everyone’s getting used to a new system and a new philosophy,’’ Soumare said. ‘‘We’re liking it, and we’re enjoying it. It’s just been
really good.’’

So far, the results have been good. The Fire lost once in eight preseason games and allowed two goals.

‘‘That group’s done well,’’ Yallop said. ‘‘It’s worked hard in the preseason. No one’s 100 percent sure how ready we are, but I feel we’ve trained well.’’

That’s encouraging to Yallop, who tried to maintain much of the Fire’s identity despite the disappointing end to last season. Magee is back for his first full season, and the Fire was a different team with him last year. Now the hope is that it will carry over.

‘‘I wanted to keep the main core of those guys,’’ Yallop said. ‘‘They scored a lot of goals and conceded, I think, a couple too many at times.And that’s the reason I made the changes at the back — to hopefully help this team win more matches and hopefully don’t concede as many goals.’’

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