Fresh off a torrid end of season run that saw the team come up just short of hardware in the U.S. Open Cup final and miss out on the MLS postseason by only three points, the club removed the interim tag from Frank Klopas’ title, making the Fire Original the sixth head coach in club history.
After missing the playoffs the previous two seasons, the Fire officially began the new Klopas era on March 17, using Dominic Oduro’s 71st minute equalizer to earn a 1-1 draw in the expansion Montreal Impact’s MLS home opener in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Olympic Stadium. In the home opener a week later, Oduro would head the Fire past Philadelphia to end the month of March with four points.
The Fire would seem to be boosted by the early season signings of former German World Cup defender Arne Friedrich and the return of second all-time leading goal scorer Chris Rolfe from Denmark. Days after Rolfe came back to the Windy City though, a freak injury in training would keep him from making his debut in a 3-2 win over Toronto FC on April 21.
Over much of the next two months, the Fire would earn points one week, then drop them the next. Come-from-behind wins away to Chivas USA and against Sporting KC surrounded a dull 0-0 draw vs. Real Salt Lake at home at the beginning of May. Towards the end of the month, the team would take its first Brimstone Cup in a 2-1 win over FC Dallas but the result would be sandwiched between a 2-1 losses away to lowly Portland and rivals Columbus.
Twelve games into the season, the team hadn’t strung two wins in a row together and then the side likely hit rock bottom with a shock 3-2 extra time defeat away to USL Premier Development League side Michigan Bucks in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. A 2-0 defeat to New England on June 2 days later left the Fire on a three-game losing streak across all competitions.
The team would regroup over the short international break and received a boost with the return of forward Chris Rolfe, who scored the icing goal in the team’s 3-1 victory over Red Bull on June 17. A week later, the Fire would earn their first winning streak of the season, downing Columbus 2-1 at Toyota Park. The next Friday they would begin to announce their intentions in the East by sustaining constant pressure away to Sporting KC before leaving LiveStrong Sporting Park with a 1-0 victory to end the month of June.
Though they went 1-2-2 through the month of July, the team began to receive offensive reinforcements with the signing of Dutch forward Sherjill MacDonald and Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez from Seattle. The team ended the month with some fire in their bellies after eight minutes of stoppage time in the July 28 match at San Jose allowed the Earthquakes to grab a late equalizer after Rolfe hit a stunning strike just before halftime.
Following the disappointing result, the team would again go on a three game winning streak, downing Toronto FC (2-1), Philadelphia (3-1) and New England (2-1) before a bogey 4-2 loss at D.C. United to end August. The defeat was a small blemish on the side’s record through August and September as they rattled off four straight wins over Houston, Toronto, Montreal and Columbus to bring the team’s record to seven wins in eight matches.
The run would put the Fire on the brink of their first postseason berth since 2009 and setup a top of the East clash on September 28 at Sporting KC. But in that highly anticipated match the team responded to an early Graham Zusi goal and the U.S. international iced the game late giving Sporting a 2-0 victory and sole possession of first place in the East.
Returning home for the team’s 15th anniversary match on October 3, the Fire again failed to clinch a playoff berth, falling 3-1 at the hands of the lowly Philadelphia Union. As the hit the skids, Klopas’ side faced a difficult match away to New York but the side failed to be down and out and road a Sherjill MacDonald brace to a 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena, setting up their playoff qualification the following day when Sporting KC drew 1-1 with the Columbus Crew.
Their postseason ticket booked, the Fire would look to use the last two matches of the season to battle for positioning but a difficult 1-0 loss to New England on the turf at Gillette Stadium setup an all-important final day clash at home vs. D.C. United on October 27. Despite peppering the United frame throughout the affair, Patrick Nyarko’s 16th minute strike from distance was all the side could muster in the 1-1 draw, forcing the team to a fourth-place finish and setting up a one-game Knockout Match vs. Houston days later at Toyota Park.
In that game, the Dynamo ran out to 2-0 lead through a Will Bruin brace before Alex found the back of the net in the 83rd minute. Though the Fire through everything forward, Houston sustained the pressure and escaped 2-1 winners, knocking the Men in Red out of the postseason at the first hurdle.
While 2012 ended with some disappointment, the club did find many successes. Klopas’ side tied the club record for most points (57) and wins (17) in a season in the post-shootout era as well as establishing a base core for the coming season.