Chicago Fire 2, DC United 0.
The Chicago Fire traveled to the nation’s capitol this past weekend where they picked up their first 3 points of the season, third consecutive clean sheet, and finally broke their goalscoring drought, maintaining their unbeaten start to the season. The two teams were pretty evenly matched on paper, but once the game started it was clear to see the Fire were going to dominate the night. Stanislav Ivanov opened the scoring in the 32nd minute with a neat flick over DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, and Jonathan Bornstein put the cherry on top with a cool finish late in the 2nd half. I felt there were two key takeaways from this match, the main one being that the team finally found some goals, got the win, and can hopefully kick on from here and have a successful season. Here are my thoughts on what we saw, starting with the player ratings:
G. Slonina // 7
B. Sekulic // 7
W. Omsberg // 9
R. Czichos // 9
M. Navarro // 8
M. Pineda // 7
F. Navarro (sub) // 7
G. Gimenez // 8
S. Ivanov // 9
J. Bornstein (sub) // 8
X. Shaqiri // 8
F. Herbers // 6
B. Gutierrez (sub) // 7
K. Przybylko // 6
Biggest takeaway from the match: The Chicago Fire grabbed their first win of the season, and it was on the road.
Over the years Chicago Fire road wins have been hard to come by. Even rarer are away wins by multiple goals. The team did both in this match. Coach Ezra Hendrickson opted for the same eleven for the third straight match, and this time it finally paid off. It was by far the team’s best performance across preseason and the opening weeks of the regular season. The backline remained solid as it has been so far this year. Gaga Slonina had a shaky performance, making a couple of deflected saves that ended up in dangerous areas, but it didn’t matter in the end as he clinched his third clean sheet in a row.
In the attack, Stanislav Ivanov had his best performance in a Fire shirt. He scored his first goal for the club, a great response to the criticism he was receiving after the first two games of the season. However, Kacper Przybylko and Fabian Herbers, the two former Philadelphia Union men, were rather unimpressive. They didn’t do anything that bad, but they just appeared to be lacking a bit of sharpness and didn’t create any dangerous attacking situations. I don’t doubt that Przybylko will eventually find his form and start putting balls in the back of the net, but I am not convinced with Fabian Herbers. Many fans would agree that he doesn’t have the quality to be a starter for a team hoping to reach the playoffs. I’d like to see Jhon Duran get a start in the next match against Kansas City in that position. He appears to be the real deal, and can probably be one of the best forwards in the league at just 18 years of age.
The midfield remains a big question mark for this team. Xherdan Shaqiri put in another fine performance, only being denied an assist for the first goal by a deflection off DC defender Brad Smith’s foot. Gaston Gimenez had probably his best game so far this year, providing the assist with a flicked-on header for Bornstein’s 3-points-clinching goal, as well as starting the move for the opener. Despite that ball over the top for the opening goal, though, Gimenez was having a rather average night until he got Federico Navarro alongside him in the 70th minute. Once that substitution occurred Gimenez was the best player on the pitch and started to look like a DP caliber player. Federico Navarro coming on definitely improved the midfield for the last twenty minutes. Mauricio Pineda wasn’t exceptional, but he wasn’t bad either, putting in a performance similar to that of his first two this year. All in all, it was a very hot and cold night for the midfield. A few moments of brilliance here and there, but they also went into lull periods for several minutes at a time on a number of occasions.
Takeaway Number 2: Another impact player needed.
Despite this good showing, it is clear to see that this team needs to add another impact player like Shaqiri. We will see what happens when Jairo Torres joins up with the team in May, but I doubt he will be the one. I don’t doubt he will be a great addition, I just don’t think he will be the game influencer that Shaqiri is. Torres’s last few games for Atlas have been lackluster and at times abysmal, but that club is going through a rough period at the moment for reasons I’m sure we’re all aware of (if you’re not, look it up).
There are two ways I think the Fire front office can add this impact player. Neither would be possible until the summer and both require moving Gaston Gimenez on to free up another DP spot. The first option is to then get a different, better central midfielder, preferably an experienced veteran. There are a number of options for the Fire to buy, and I’m sure they have a large database of DP-level central midfielders. They could also look to players in free agency or a player whose contract is expiring in the summer. A few big-name, experienced midfielders that fit these criteria and that I think are attainable for the Fire include legendary midfielder Cesc Fabregas of Monaco, Matias Vecino of Inter Milan, Arturo Vidal of Inter Milan, and Joao Moutinho of Wolverhampton. Another option, although this one is a little bit more of a dream rather than a realistic possibility, is Luka Modric of Real Madrid. All of these players have contracts expiring in the summer. All of them are over 30, but these days players play until their late thirties and all of these guys could be serious difference makers.
The other viable option I see, and one that is definitely possible for the Fire, is to bring in Illinois-native John Brooks, center back currently of Wolfsburg, back to his home state. Brooks’s contract ends at the conclusion of this European season, and the player and his club have recently announced that he will not be returning next season. If I’m Georg Heitz and Sebastian Peltzer I’m going all-in on this move. It just makes so much sense. He’s from Illinois and we already know he will be leaving his current club in the summer, why not bring him to Chicago? MLS is a league that struggles to build good defenses. Defense is an area of the field that is massively under-invested in in this league, with DP defenders hard to come by in MLS. If the Fire can bring in Brooks to pair alongside Rafael Czichos it will not only be the best defense in the league this season, but it would have the potential to be the best defense in league history. Trading away Gimenez and bringing in Brooks in that DP spot seems like a no-brainer to me, and I’m sure many fans would agree.
That’s all folks. The optimism around the club is growing day by day. This appears to be the best group of players the team has had since 2017. Let’s hope this season is even more successful than that one. With this much talent (and potentially more incoming), playoffs are the minimum expectation now. A good US Open Cup run, preferably winning the whole tournament, and at least two playoff games would be considered a monumental success as the club looks to continue building towards an MLS Cup championship and establishing a dynasty. It has been a long time since there was this much excitement around the club. A long long time.
Featured Image: Chicago Fire/Twitter