With expansion franchises Vancouver and Portland joining Major League Soccer this season, the league is expecting a big rivalry in the Northwest between those two clubs and Seattle, the league attendance leader.
Also having a number of clubs bunched in the northeast part of the continent and more on the way, MLS commissioner Don Garber -- in town Monday for the sold-out Fire preseason kickoff luncheon -- said the league knows it could use more teams in the Midwest and Southeast. For now Columbus is the nearest team to Chicago to provide a geographic rivalry.
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"I think it will be the leaders in the East," Garber said about a rival for the Fire. "I do believe that Chicago and Columbus should have a good rivalry. They're relatively close to each other.
"But Chicago is almost viewed in many ways like a national team because of their success. I think they'll be competing with everybody. We have a balanced schedule, so whether it's Los Angeles or whether it's New York or whether it's another Western (Conference) club like Dallas, which I think is going to have another good team this year, you're going to start seeing a lot of important rivalries develop.
"Rivalries don't necessarily have to be local. The (Los Angeles) Lakers and the (Boston) Celtics have a pretty good rivalry, and they're on other ends of the country. I think it's just a matter of having memorable games and games that matter."
The Fire renews its Brimstone Cup rivalry with FC Dallas when it opens the season in Texas on Saturday (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
Garber said the league has had and will continue to have talks with people in Detroit.
The league is committed to Montreal joining the league next year as the 19th team, and it still hopes to add a second club in New York. After that, Garber said, "I don't know where it goes from there. Clearly we'll slow down a little bit after 20, but there are so many other cities in this country that are looking for a professional soccer team that we'll have to assess where we are after the 20th team joins the league."
More than just numbers:
The Fire has been using a 3-5-2 formation in preseason and probably will start the season with it.
"It's an option," coach Carlos de los Cobos said Monday. "I'm teaching these guys to play a different way. ... We are solid in the defense with this shape."
Finalizing the roster:
The Fire's roster stands at 25 players officially, though the team must include 28 when play starts Saturday. One of those final spots looks like it will go to third-round draft pick Davis Paul, who is still unsigned but was introduced at Monday's kickoff luncheon.
The other spots probably will go to forward Gabriel Ferrari, a trialist, and open tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos, a Mount Prospect native who saw most of his playing time this spring on the back line.
The announcements of the signing of the three players is believed to be held up at the league office and should come sometime this week.
"There might be an area on the front line where we're still looking to bring another player in," technical director Frank Klopas said.
Dan Kelly returns to do play-by-play on the Fire's local television broadcasts this year, but his partner is still to be found. For Saturday's game the Fire and FC Dallas will have a joint telecast, with Dallas' Bobby Rhine joining Kelly.