Chicago Fire 0, Orlando City 0.
The Fire tied their 2nd consecutive match 0-0 over the weekend, as they opened up Soldier Field for the 2022 season in front of a crowd of 25,000. There were many similarities between this match and the season opener down in Miami. Both games were against a team from Florida. On both occasions, I thought the guys outperformed their opposition. But in both games, the team’s forwards were not nearly clinical enough to force a breakthrough. Here are my thoughts on the match and what my biggest takeaway was. Starting with the player ratings:
G. Slonina // 8
B. Sekulic // 6
W. Omsberg // 8
R. Czichos // 8
M. Navarro // 6
M. Pineda // 6
G. Gimenez // 5
S. Ivanov // 5
J. Duran (sub) // 6
X. Shaqiri // 7
F. Herbers // 5
B. Gutierrez (sub) // 7
K. Przybylko // 6
Biggest takeaway from the match: The Chicago Fire are proving difficult to beat.
It was again a game of decent individual performances that were enough to drag the Fire across the line and maintain an undefeated start to the season. Just barely. Orlando City is a far better team than Inter Miami so it was good to see that the Fire was able to keep them at bay and only allow a handful of chances. Chances that didn’t really end up threatening us though. Orlando didn’t have any shots on target apart from one towards the end of the match that forced a magnificent save out of Gabe Slonina, but that one was offside anyway. VAR saved the day for the Fire once again, correctly calling a handball in the build-up to Orlando’s goal. Nevertheless, the team can walk away from the match with plenty of lessons learned to carry into the next few weeks of the league season.
The biggest takeaway from the match which I’d like to highlight here is that this Chicago Fire team, at least throughout pre-season and now these first couple matches, is showing that they are one of the toughest teams to beat in MLS. You can see that head coach Ezra Hendrickson has been focusing on this over the first weeks of the season. After the match, he said in his press conference that, in line with one of the core values of this club (Tradition in “Tradition, Honor, Passion”), he wants to start a tradition of being a team that’s very hard to score on. He said that he wants the team to have the mentality “If we’re not gonna win the game, you’re not gonna win the game.” The players seem to really be taking this to heart. Captain Rafa Czichos has the backline organized to a T and is giving the players around him the confidence to be the best versions of themselves. Wyatt Omsberg is playing better in these first couple of games than he ever has in his career. Miguel Navarro and Boris Sekulic, despite a couple of shaky moments, are starting to look like true MLS defenders. With Gabe Slonina behind them, the Fire defense looks better than it has in years and I’m feeling confident about the backline’s resolve this season. I don’t think it’ll be easy to break through this Fire defense, assuming everyone can stay fit.
Moving further up the field, the midfield definitely needs improvement. Gaston Gimenez, even though he’s gotten praise from coach Hendrickson, has in all honesty not lived up to his DP status in either of these two opening matches. Apart from covering a lot of ground, he hasn’t contributed all that much. There are a few stats out there that can make the argument that he had a pretty decent game, but a DP isn’t there to be putting in average performances. A DP is supposed to be putting in exceptional performances week in and week out. It’s not enough to just run around getting your steps in. Your DP central midfielder needs to be heavily involved in creating chances and covering any defensive gaps. I also feel he’s had a few very good chances that he’s been wasteful with. Gimenez needs to improve or he needs to be dropped. The latter is made difficult with Federico Navarro still not fully recovered from his injury, who you’d assume is the natural replacement for him to pair alongside Mauricio Pineda. To be fair, I don’t think Pineda had an exceptional game either. He was average on the night which is frankly okay at this stage of the season. His role in the team is a lot different than that of Gimenez. A double pivot of Pineda and Navarro is, in my opinion, the best midfield pairing for this team at the moment.
The attack is slow to get going this season. The chances are being created, but the forwards have not been nearly clinical enough in either of these two matches. The team had 25 shots across the first two matches, and ideally, you’d want 3 or 4 goals from that, minimum. A good amount of these chances were golden opportunities that should be getting buried in the back of the net. Austin FC, who are scoring goals like there’s no tomorrow, have had 27 shots and scored 10 goals in the opening two matches. This includes 5 goals against Inter Miami who we failed to score on despite having double the amount of shots as Austin had against them. If we’re considering ourselves real playoff contenders, then the goals must start rolling in. If we continue on this trend, then we’re in for a long season full of missed opportunities once again. Kacper Przybylko is a proven MLS goalscorer who comes into this season with last year’s CONCACAF Champions League Golden Boot to his name. Xherdan Shaqiri has won a number of the highest honors attainable in world football, scoring some of the most beautiful goals this generation of fans has seen. Jhon Duran is thought of as one of the world’s most promising young forwards, and so is Jairo Torres who’s joining up with the team in May. Surely there are some goals here.
There is a solid foundation laid. Ezra Hendrickson and the staff have the team well drilled and putting in solid performances. The defense is shining and doesn’t appear to be dimming, which feels very good to say after many years of poor performances at the back. Teams will find Chicago Fire tough to beat this season. Ideally, the midfield finds some consistency, and the forwards can start finding the back of the net before the defenders behind them putting a shift in start to get agitated.
Featured Image: Chicago Fire/Twitter