Chicago Fire: Assessing the debutants
Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui via Getty Images

The Chicago Fire kicked off their 2022 season in interesting fashion.

They got a decent result on paper, drawing 0-0 away to Inter Miami. The performances of the players on the field ranged a bit, but not too much. No one dropped a masterclass or a disasterclass, but some were clearly better than others on the afternoon.

Since it was the first game of the campaign, there was a slight focus on certain members of the team. Those were the debutants, who were making their first appearances for Chicago. How did they each fair when all was said and done? Let’s take a look.

Rafael Czichos

A left-footed center back wearing the number 5 kit who’s captaining the side? No, this isn’t a description from 2021 of Francisco Calvo. There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Rafael Czichos.

This time around, it looks like the Fire has a proper leader. Czichos took no time to find his footing in the lineup, almost instantly becoming the go-to guy when it comes to the backline. He’s in charge, and he’s the one telling everyone else what to do and how to do it.

That in itself has already made this signing a potentially shrewd one. Chicago’s defensive players have some talent, but they all have some issues. Fullbacks Boris Sekulić and Miguel Navarro are better going forward than they are going back, while the likes of Mauricio Pineda, Carlos Terán, and Jhon Espinoza are still young and learning.

In terms of his direct impact on the game, Czichos did alright. He was calm and composed throughout, and he wasn’t really challenged too much by the opposition. It wasn’t perfect, though, as he gave up a few chances, and he almost scored an own-goal due to a poor clearance. Fortunately for him, Gabriel Slonina was able to react quickly to make the big save.

All in all, it was a good start that will give fans hope for the future of the backline.

Verdict: Like Calvo but without the random heart attacks.

Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri certainly tried his best.

The biggest name here by a bit, it was clear to see that Shaqiri wanted to make an impression on his debut. Used in that incredibly important number 10 role, things really went through him for most of the contest. He received passes in midfield before turning on the ball and driving forward with it, which led to potential opportunities.

However, it just never really came together. Sometimes the Switzerland international was jumped as soon as he got the ball, either getting cleanly dispossessed or fouled on the play. When he was able to turn, there was either no options or he let himself down with a bad pass. On the few occasions a chance was created, it wasn’t converted by his teammates.

Shaqiri attempted to do everything on his own when he unleashed a strike from distance, but his audacious effort was easily saved since it came from so far away. That moment kind of summed up his performance. He was so desperate for him and the team to do well that he sometimes forced things, and he was a frustrated figure at full-time.

That frustration is good, though, as it’s certainly clear that the attacker cares about winning with the Fire. Whether he’d be better out wide remains to be seen, but for now, the excitement over his signing should not fade in the slightest.

Verdict: Like Shaun Maloney if he really cared and had better support around him.

Kacper Przybyłko

This might be the toughest one to judge.

For all intents and purposes, Kacper Przybyłko had a poor showing. Sure, there were some good moments, like the times he dropped deep to provide some support in possession. He was good on his feet, able to take the right touches and make the right passes most of the time.

However, the problem with these moments was where they took place. The striker wasn’t really a striker, as his focus on helping the attack meant that he couldn’t be where he needed to when it mattered most. He did open up space for teammates, but it would have been better if he was in those spaces instead. 

Przybyłko was brought in to be a goalscorer for Chicago. His other abilities in the final third are a big bonus, of course, but his main focus should be finding the back of the net on a consistent basis. The blame isn’t fully on him, to be fair, as it’s the system that needs to be slightly altered. Maybe that’ll change in due time, or maybe a change in the personnel around him will improve things.

There’s no pressure on him yet, of course, but fans have gotten used to seeing strikers not named Nemanja Nikolić flop hard as of late. Przybyłko should still be fine, though.

Verdict: A better Robert Berić.

Jhon Durán

The only one that didn’t start on the afternoon, some were disappointed to see Jhon Durán on the bench.

Legitimately one of the most promising youngsters on the planet, the 18-year-old came to the club in the offseason after being purchased last year. There was hope that he could make a dream start to life with the Fire, but the coaching staff ultimately decided to turn to players they trusted a bit more.

There’s a chance that Durán’s brief cameo has done enough to change their minds going into the future.

It was all about drive and power from him, as he looked like he wanted it more than others. The attacker was flying around the park, using his physical attributes to his advantage. He was hungry to make an impact, and he tried his best to devour any opportunity that he could to change things, whether on the ball or off of it. It was clear that he put in the work and put in the hours during the winter, and now he’s ready to take what’s his, and that’s a starting spot in the lineup. 

Chicago will have to be patient, of course. Durán has loads of raw talent, but that talent is still raw at the end of the day. He’ll have plenty of growing pains along the way, but the club should still put their trust in him and give him chances in the team, especially in the starting lineup.

Keep the faith, and trust the process. Fortunately for the Fire, it should be easy to do just that after the player’s promising cameo.

Verdict: The Rock circa 1997.