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MLS: Eastern Conference Preview

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CHARLESTON, SC - FEBRUARY 23: Joel Lindpere #26 of the Chicago Fire and Daigo Kobayashi #14 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC battle for the ball during the second half of the Carolina Challenge Cup at Blackbaud Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Charleston, South Carolina
CHARLESTON, SC - FEBRUARY 23: Joel Lindpere #26 of the Chicago Fire and Daigo Kobayashi #14 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC battle for the ball during the second half of the Carolina Challenge Cup at Blackbaud Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Charleston, South Carolina

Overview: Like Houston, the Fire will boast an enviable backbone this season. Frank Klopas’ vision for a successful season rests firmly on a tried and tested defense, as well as an improved midfield. Last season’s rookie of the year, Austin Berry, will only continue to improve with former German international Arne Friedrich by his side. Additionally, the arrivals of Joel Lindpere and Jeff Lorentowitz will bring consistency and experience to the midfield. There are questions about Chicago’s ability to score. Chris Rolfe is a proven threat, but Sherjill MacDonald needs to become a more consistent scorer. Maicon Santos will contribute a few goals, but like MacDonald, the forward must find a more consistent vein of form.

Key Player: Given the question marks concerning Chicago’s attack, it’s up to Rolfe to maintain the form that propelled Chicago to the playoffs last season. One of the hardest players to mark in MLS, Rolfe will have many of the league’s best center-backs and defensive midfielders chasing shadows.