Chicago Fire 0, Inter Miami 0.

I had the pleasure of going down to Fort Lauderdale to see the Chicago Fire open their season against Inter Miami, and I was not disappointed. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to some of our players and staff before the game and let me just say that all these guys are top-class individuals.

The Chicago Fire is on the up, and the whole experience compelled me to write some things about the team again. Look, a draw away from home on matchday one is definitely not a bad thing. The team looks good, and the guys are playing with a sense of togetherness and a high level of chemistry. It was a hard-fought point on a hot night in Fort Lauderdale, and there were plenty of moments where the Fire looked better than they did at any point in the past two years. The only worrying thing, and potentially very concerning thing, is that through five matches (the four pre-season friendlies and the opening game) the Fire has only managed one goal, which was Gaston Gimenez’s insane kick from midfield. Inter Miami is a team we should be beating comfortably if we’re going to consider ourselves part of this group of serious playoff contenders.

Miami is one of the weaker teams in the division, and a healthy win against them would have set us up nicely. It’s easy to overlook this because it’s only been one match, but Austin FC and DC United both dispatched weaker opposition, in Cincinnati and Charlotte, 5-0 and 3-0 respectively. Hopefully, the guys can shake off this rust and find some goals soon.

The following are going to be some things picked up on during the match and a little bit of elaboration on what we saw, starting with player ratings:

  • G. Slonina // 8
  • B. Sekulic // 5
  • W. Omsberg // 6
  • R. Czichos // 8
  • M. Navarro // 7
  • M. Pineda // 6
  • G. Gimenez // 5
  • F. Navarro (sub) // 6
  • S. Ivanov // 4
  • B. Gutierrez (sub) // 5
  • X. Shaqiri // 8
  • F. Herbers // 6
  • J. Duran (sub) // 6
  • K. Przybylko // 7

Lots of Missed Chances

Starting with the obvious, the Fire didn’t bury a number of clear-cut chances in this match, and it’s following the trend we saw in preseason. The team was on the front foot for most of the game, dominating possession and winning most of their individual duals. They had sixteen attempts, but still a big old goose egg on the scoreboard, which indicates that Ezra Hendrickson and his staff are setting the team up to create plenty of chances, but they’re just not being taken.

Apart from the Shaqiri strike that was dipping and swerving towards the end of the match, Fire forwards Ivanov and Przybylko had the best chances, however, none of them came to fruition. Not entirely sure what it can be put down to. Maybe a lack of confidence, or an unfortunate string of early-season blunders. Either way, Ezra and his coaching staff will be determined to see the players remedy this.

Gabe Slonina Is a Really Good Guy

Photo: Chicago Fire

Gabe Slonina has been nothing but a top-class professional since signing his Homegrown contract a few years ago at just 14 years old. He was arguably our best player at the end of last season and judging off this first match he’s looking to continue that form as he hopes to attract a big move to Europe. Apart from being an outstanding player on the field, Gabe Slonina is a quality guy off it. Following the match, Gabe pulled up his jersey and revealed a shirt that read “No War in Ukraine”, showing his support for the people of Ukraine in light of the ongoing Russian invasion. An amazing message from the 17-year-old.

I had the chance to exchange a few words with him before the game and the guy has exactly the mentality you want from a world-class goalkeeper. Any club that signs him will be happy to have such a great professional on their books. He saved the point right at the end with a couple of great saves, especially the 87th-minute strike from Miami forward Ariel Lassiter. I can’t imagine that he will be with our team for very long before a top team swoops in for him.

Rafael Czichos Was a Very Astute Piece of Business

Our new captain has completely transformed his backline. The defensive quality in this match and the few preseason games we saw is a night and day difference from last season. Miguel Navarro looks like he’s benefiting the most from the added security next to him, and Wyatt Omsberg also looked better than ever.

There are still a few questions about Czichos’s other defensive partner in this match, Boris Sekulic, but overall the defense looked a lot more solid and far better than it did with Francisco Calvo leading them over the past couple of years. You can see Czichos’s professionalism and experience are having a knock-on effect on the players around him, and I think all Fire fans can be happy with their team’s new captain.

Ivanov Not Good Enough

Stanislav Ivanov has been a curious case since his arrival in MLS. He’s undoubtedly a quality soccer player, but he hasn’t been able to translate his form from abroad to our team. There were plenty of opportunities in this game for Ivanov to be the difference-maker and he simply wasn’t clinical enough. This game and preseason have revealed a glaring problem in this Fire team: the wings. Fabian Herbers wasn’t nearly as good as we needed him to be in the match against Miami either. Sure, he ran well and covered a lot of ground, but like Ivanov, he didn’t rise to the occasion to be the difference-maker in the match.

We’ll see what happens when Jairo Torres joins in May and if the Fire ends up signing a u22 winger or this MLS veteran (all signs are pointing to the Yerson Chacon deal being completely off, so we’ll see what other u22 wingers they have lined up), but at the moment the wingers are rather suspect. 

Miguel Navarro Is Silently Becoming a Solid MLS Fullback

One of the big question marks last season was just how good Miguel Navarro really is. Toward the end of the season, he was one of the better performers. He followed that up with a pretty good preseason, and now a great game against Inter Miami.

He got up and down that touchline very well, found himself in spaces to create chances, and even had one of his own, and he didn’t get caught out of position all that often. I don’t think he’ll be the best fullback in the league, but he’s definitely an average MLS fullback and that is perfectly okay for our backline.

Always Give It to Shaqiri

Everything must go through Shaqiri. In this game, he was popping up everywhere. In the attack, Shaqiri, back on defense, Shaqiri, set pieces, Shaqiri. He demonstrated that he’s still a world-class player and played exactly how we need him to play this season.

Shaqiri was definitely getting roughed up by the Inter Miami players, but he still got a decent amount of protection from the refs. Not a lot has to be said about our Swiss magnifico, everyone knows what he’s about and saw what he’s about in this game. Shaqiri was amazing and had moments where he could have finished off the game.

Not Sure Where Guti Will Play for Us

Homegrown starlet Brian Gutierrez got about 15 minutes against Inter Miami, and while he played well, I was left confused by a few things regarding him. For starters, it didn’t look like he had a defined position when he took the field. He swapped wings a few times, played as a 10 for a minute, and hung out in midfield for a bit. Maybe Ezra Hendrickson just wanted to see short cameos from him in each of these positions, but there’s seemingly a question mark over the youngster. What does the future hold for him following the addition of Shaqiri, Torres, and potentially one or two more wingers coming?

Przybylko and Duran Are Far Better-Striking Options Than We Had Last Year

News flash: Robert Beric was not that good and Chinoso Offor is not an MLS starting-caliber striker. Even the casual viewer could see that there was very little effort put in by our strikers last season, and when they did put some work in, the chances were squandered. The striker is meant to be a focal point in the attack, and when your striker is bad, your attack is bad. Improvement in the forward position was an absolute necessity for the Chicago Fire this offseason, and the technical staff has seemingly delivered. Kacper Przybylko is a quality MLS striker that knows how to score in this league.

I felt much more optimistic about every chance the team created solely because of Przybylko being upfront. And when Jhon Duran came on for the final 10-15 minutes, you could immediately see how hungry he was to hit the ground running. He chased after every ball, no matter the distance. It could have been 10, 20, 30 yards in front of him and he still went after it. Excited to see what those two can produce this season.

Away Support Was Fantastic the Whole Ninety

The 40+ Fire fans that traveled down to Fort Lauderdale for the match were a sight to behold, singing and dancing the whole match. The fans were joined by Ezra Hendrickson’s family and friends who stood with us in the away section. It was really nice to see them singing our chants and partaking in showing the team support.

The passion we showed in this opening match makes me excited for the upcoming season. A unified supporter’s section benefits everybody and better performances on the field will come because of it. Fire supporters have the potential to be the best in the league, and the players will only be spurred on by this.

Featured Image: Chicago Fire/Twitter
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