With Mike Magee looking to replicate his 2013 MVP campaign, the Chicago Fire's first match could give him a good opportunity for another quick start.
After missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker, the Fire open this season on the road Sunday against Chivas USA, a club which conceded a league-high 67 goals last year and enters 2014 with uncertainty stretching from the back line all the way up to its ownership.
Magee, who opened last season with a hat trick against his current team before being acquired from Los Angeles in May, was late to join the club in the preseason due to self-described personal reasons that have otherwise been reported as an ongoing contract dispute. Nevertheless, he said he will be ready to start the opener.
"You have to get off to a good start," Magee told the club's official website. "Momentum in this league is huge and in L.A. we had one goal: win championships. This year it's identical. My one and only goal is to win games for this team. If I score three goals every game, that's great. If I score zero goals and we win a cup I'd be 10 times happier than I was last year."
Magee was second in MLS with 21 goals and scored in his first four matches with the Fire, finishing with 15 goals in 22 games after the trade. Chicago rebounded from a 2-7-2 start without him to nearly make the playoffs by going 12-6-5 with him.
While Magee, who had never scored more than seven regular-season goals, will be out to prove the breakout year wasn't an anomaly, it sounds like an attacking mindset is what first-year coach Frank Yallop has planned for the Fire.
"(Yallop) wants it to be a high-intensity kind of game where we're squeezing teams, and trying to dispossess the ball as quickly as we can and then just attack," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "It's just that mentality, to focus on pinning other teams to one side of the field, and then trying to win possession as quickly as we can and attacking. From speaking to Frank, he wants us to be a little more offensive this year."
That brings into question the reliability of a revamped back line that will feature newcomers Lovel Palmer and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado alongside Bakary Soumare and Gonzalo Segares. The Fire allowed 52 goals last season, second-most in the Eastern Conference behind dismal D.C. United.
Chivas, meanwhile, has been overhauled just about everywhere, including at the ownership level after the league bought the franchise and is seeking a buyer as the season begins. The club will be guided by first-year coach Wilmer Cabrera after finishing last in the West at 6-20-8.
On the field, the defensive issues were likely most pressing. Chivas brought in youngster Andrew Jean-Baptiste to join summer acquisition and longtime U.S. national team defender Carlos Bocanegra to help give goalkeeper Dan Kennedy a bit of a break.
"Obviously, there's some returning guys, but as a whole, this is a brand new team, and it's a whole new season," rookie Thomas McNamara told the league's website. "Right now, we're in first place with everybody else. Once the season starts, we're going to try to keep it that way."
McNamara figures to join veteran newcomer Mauro Rosales' midfield to help target Erick Torres up top. Torres, 21, led Chivas with seven goals in 15 matches during his first MLS season.
Chivas beat the Fire 4-1 in Chicago in the clubs' only meeting last season on March 24.