On June 30th – after week 17 of the MLS season – I published the mid-term report card for the Chicago Fire. It’s amazing how much has changed since then both in terms of player and team performances. After starting the second half of the season off with four draws and three defeats, the Fire picked up 22 points from a possible 30 in the last ten matches of the season to miss out on a playoff spot by a mere four points. The Fire improved drastically across all areas of the pitch during the final stages of the season, although there were still those who fell out favor in the first team.
Here is the final report card for each Chicago Fire player for the 2011 season. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with certain grades in the comment’s section.
Note: Only players making four or more appearances for the Fire are being graded.
Sean Johnson: A- (Mid-term grade: A-)
Johnson has been so solid for the Fire this season, that it is often easy to forget that he was dropped to the bench after the first six games of the season by former Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos. Unfazed by his early season errors, Johnson regained his starting position and has demonstrated why he is one of the most talented young American goalkeepers, forcing many to call for USMNT Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann to call the 22-year-old into the US roster. Overall, a few mistakes here and there over the course of the season was not enough to overshadow a great sophomore season for the Fire’s #1.
Jon Conway: D+ (Mid-term grade: C-)
Failing to appear in a single match since the halfway point of the season, Conway clearly paid the price for several costly mistakes during a short stint in goal in the early stages of the season. At this point, the Fire may consider promoting 24-year-old reserve goalkeeper Alec Dufty to the Fire’s back-up ‘keeper in place of Conway.
Jalil Anibaba: A- (Mid-term grade: B+)
For a player who struggled with inconsistency at the beginning of the season, Anibaba’s rise to becoming one of the best rookies in the league has been nothing short of phenomenal. He grew in stature as the season progressed and formed a burgeoning partnership with veteran Cory Gibbs at the heart of defense. His brace against Columbus in the final match of the season and MLS Player of the Week honors was the icing on a very promising season for the former North Carolina Tar Heel.
Cory Gibbs: A- (Mid-term grade: A-)
Gibbs recovered from an early season injury and ended up being a vital part in helping Chicago ‘tighten the ship’ in defense. Started 26 games and also chipped in with three important goals. Provide some much needed leadership in defense, as well.
Yamith Cuesta: B- (Mid-term grade: A)
Missed the beginning of the season as he was a late acquisition from Chivas USA, but he slotted into the team well and was a mainstay in defense during the first half of the season. A nightmare performance in Vancouver, followed by a few more questionable performances, saw him dropped from the starting eleven in favor of Anibaba and Josip Mikulic. Never received much of a chance to redeem himself.
Josip Mikulic: B (Mid-term grade: B)
Only made 14 appearances this season due to injury but was relatively solid when called upon. A big asset against powerful, physical forwards but often struggled against attackers with pace.
Gonzalo Segares: A (Mid-term grade: A)
One of the most consistent players for the Fire this season, Segares will most likely be remembered for conceding a late penalty against DC United before immediately bouncing back to propel the Fire to a stunning comeback in injury time. Provided stability in defense and demonstrated an incredible work ethic throughout.
Dan Gargan: A-
Unwanted in Toronto, the Fire acquired Dan Gargan from Toronto FC for Dasan Robinson and it proved to be a major coup for Chicago. Gargan slotted into the team seamlessly and demonstrated consistency at right-back. Scored a memorable goal against his old club in a 2-0 win and proved to RSL’s Fabian Espindola that he can battle with the best of them.
Mike Videira: C- (Mid-term grade: B-)
A mainstay in midfield under CLDC at the beginning of the season, Videira was criticized for numerous subpar performances at CM. After starting against LA on April 17th, Videira would only make three appearances throughout the rest of the season and never looked capable of breaking back into the starting XI.
Logan Pause: B+ (Mid-term grade: B)
Experienced a difficult first half of the season but benefited from the acquisitions of Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini. Both signings took the pressure off Pause and allowed him to flourish at a more defensive role in midfield. Also made more starts than any other midfielder in the squad and deserves credit for demonstrating good captaincy and leadership through many ups and downs this season.
Daniel Paladini: B- (Mid-term grade: B+)
A solid debut season for the former NASL player. Sometimes struggled against higher quality teams, but was always Klopas’ first choice midfielder off the bench and did enough to prove himself worthy of a spot in the Fire’s first team.
Baggio Husidic: C (Mid-term grade: B-)
Forced to wait for first-team opportunities by CLDC, Husidic provided much needed attacking impetus when he finally received a chance under Klopas. Failed to really take hold of his opportunities, however, and found himself out of favor for much of the season. A player with plenty of potential but yet to really receive a solid run in the first team.
Corben Bone: C- (Mid-term grade: C+)
Like Husidic, found his opportunities limited this season due to the arrival of Grazzini and Pardo. Provided attacking impetus when he did play and showed signs of potential.
Patrick Nyarko: A- (Mid-term grade: B+)
An indifferent start to the season was quickly forgotten as he quickly found a rich vein of form immediately following his move to forward alongside Dominic Oduro. Finished the season with a team high nine assists and was an essential part of Chicago’s play in the attacking third. (See chalkboard)
Pavel Pardo: A-
Quickly settled into the MLS and his debut goal at Toyota Park was the start of a great run in the team. Formed an effective partnership with Pause and was a key component both in breaking up opposition attacks and starting attacks for his own side.
Sebastian Grazzini: A
Quite possibly the Fire’s best player since signing with the club in July, Grazzini was exactly what the Fire had been missing before his arrival and his impact has been nothing short of phenomenal. Seba tallied five assists and four goals and his influence in attack was a huge reason for the Fire turning its season around. His absence in the US Open Cup Final due to injury proved costly.
Marco Pappa: A- (Mid-term grade: A)
Enjoyed a very bright first half of the season and stepped up with several important goals. Failed to consistently replicate the form that saw him lead the Fire in goals last season, but was still a solid performer for the men in red and a key threat to opposing defenses. Criticized at times for being too selfish in possession and he may have finished in the top five in the league for shots attempted, but his eight goals were an important contribution and his hat-trick against RSL was one for the highlight reels.
Diego Chaves: B- (Mid-term grade: A-)
Enjoyed an incredible start to the season that saw him notch three goals in the first three games. Appearing destined for double digits in his first season in the MLS, Chaves faded as the season progressed and only managed to score three more goals throughout the rest of the season – although vital goals they were.
Christian Nazarit: D+ (Mid-term grade: C+)
A late acquisition to the squad at the beginning of the season, Nazarit took time to settle in the MLS and opened his scoring account with a memorable injury-time winner in Columbus. Despite showing small glimpses of being a talented center forward, Nazarit failed to find his feet and made just 12 appearances for the Fire this season – going without a start since back-to-back defeats to Los Angeles and Portland. His performances forced many to wonder why he is the Fire’s highest paid player (see list).
Orr Barouch: B (Mid-term grade: B)
Appeared in 28 league matches for the Fire, yet incredibly only made two starts. Despite failing to become a prominent figure in the starting eleven, Barouch often managed to provide a positive impact when called upon. Chipped in with several important assists and did more than enough to prove that he has a future at this club.
Dominic Oduro: A (Mid-term grade: A)
Three words immediately come to mind: Most Valuable Player. Oduro enjoyed a sensational season in Chicago, silencing the doubters en route to scoring a team high twelve goals in all competitions, including several vital goals both in the league and US Open Cup. His blistering pace and improved finishing ensured he would become the first player to score more than ten goals in a season for the Fire since Damani Ralph.
Have you voted for your most memorable win of the 2011 season yet? Vote here and look out for the November issue of the Chicago Fire Fanzine to see the results.