Fire midfielder Logan Pause (right) heads the ball during the second half… (US Presswire )
A single point in the standings was all that kept the Fire from the playoffs in 2013. They've had all offseason to think about the rough start—they didn't score a goal until their fourth game—and a disappointing season finale in which a win would have changed their fate.
To a man, the players point to a better beginning as essential to erasing those memories.
"The first part of the season was just horrible; we got nothing out of the first part of the season," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "The most important thing is to start off on the right foot and be consistent throughout the year."
Entering 2014, the Fire have a cleaner slate than most. There's a new coach in Frank Yallop, a new coaching staff and 10 players who were not with the team last year.
"I think last year, the only thing that we really took away from it is that we have an MVP on our team [in Mike Magee]," defender Hunter Jumper said. "Going forward it's a fresh start, new tactics, new players, and I think everybody's buying into the system."
Of course, there are plenty of familiar faces who figure to shape the team's course.
Magee, a Chicago native, scored 15 goals for the Fire last season after joining the team via trade in May. No other player on the team scored more than four goals.
Five midfielders and one defender who played at least 30 games last year also return, as does goalkeeper Sean Johnson, an up-and-comer with the U.S. national team.
"I think regular season, moreso than anything, you can't really look too far ahead," Johnson said. "Getting off to a good start's the most important thing. So if we do that, we put ourselves in the best position to make the playoffs and do the best we can to get to the MLS Cup."
Having gone 7-1 in the preseason will help. Though not as much as win in the season opener.
The Fire kick off the 2014 campaign Sunday against Chivas USA in L.A.
Chris Sosa is RedEye's sports editor.
WE HAD TO ASK …
Do you want instant replay in MLS?
"The game's been played the way it's played for centuries and I'm OK the way it is now."
—Sean Johnson, goalkeeper
"I think every defender would argue with me, but I would love instant replay. … Just for goals. I cheat too much for [other forms of replay] to happen. [Laughs.]"
—Mike Magee, forward
"If they could find a way to do it without stopping the game, absolutely."
—Patrick Nyarko, midfielder
"No, I don't think that's necessary at all. Goal-line technology would be a good thing, but replay, not a chance."
—Chris Rolfe, forward
"Yeah, why not. All the time it's happening where plays are close and at the end of the day I think you should have the right call because players work very hard to be in the position they're in. And if it's a decisive play where a goal can win you a championship or not, I think there should be instant replay."
—Gonzalo Segares, defender
Editor's note: Some professional leagues use goal-line technology, in which a watch tells the referee whether the ball crosses the line. It is not used in MLS.
The current season of "The Bachelor" features a former soccer player. Which teammate would you want on the show?
Chris Rolfe: 3 votes
Bakary Soumare: 2 votes
Hunter Jumper: 3 votes
Viktor Pineda: 1 vote
Sean Johnson: 1 vote
"Hunter would be hilarious. He has a lot of very unique things to say and an amazing perspective on life. So I feel like he would be very insightful and funny as well."
"If I had to nominate someone, I'd throw in Sean Jeanson. I mean, million-dollar smile, national team goalkeeper… . Maybe I'll throw Chris Rolfe in there too. He's got the All-American Boy look."
"I'd like to throw my bud Chris Rolfe under the bus, for sure. I'd love to see him on 'The Bachelor.' He'd be a great bachelor candidate, just because I'd love to see him on the show. It'd be awkward seeing one of your friends on the show."
Editor's note: Two players nominated more than one teammate.
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