Chicago Fire: Three potential tactical tweaks
Photo by Quinn Harris via Getty Images

It only took the Chicago Fire two games to showcase their duality.

Their 2022 campaign has been a bit of a weird one, as they tied both of their opening two games 0-0. The good news is they have yet to concede a single goal. The bad news is they have yet to score one. They're unbeaten, but they're also winless. Looking at who those matches were against, neither result was a bad one since Chicago was away to Inter Miami and at home against a seemingly dangerous Orlando City side.

All in all, the Fire have two points to show from their first two contests. That leaves them in 8th, one spot behind a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. It is crazy to already start looking at the postseason picture, but supporters should still be keeping a keen eye on the standings every once in a while.

So, things haven’t been bad, but there’s certainly room for improvement. How can Chicago improve? Well, that might come with a few adjustments to their starting lineup and style of play.

The Navarro and Pineda show

This change will be in part thanks to a return to the team.

Federico Navarro has been a revelation since joining the Fire near the end of last season. He hit the ground running to say the very least, quickly proving himself to be a potentially elite midfielder in MLS

Unfortunately for him and Chicago, an injury has delayed his start to this season. The Argentine was forced to settle for a cameo off the bench in the opener, and then he didn’t feature at all the following week. That will likely change going into the next game, as he should regain his spot in the starting lineup.

That leaves one spot left in the center of midfield. It seems like the obvious option would be Gastón Giménez. He’s a Designated Player after all, and he was even re-signed to a contract extension during the offseason. However, that wouldn’t be the right call.

Instead, the nod should go to Mauricio Pineda. The homegrown has always been a solid player for the side, but some were questioning if he would start in this current team, and where. He’s been used in the center of midfield due to Navarro’s aforementioned absence, and he’s made the most of the opportunity. Providing some much-needed balance to the team, he’s able to track back defensively and carry the ball up the pitch before picking out a teammate in the final third.

He’s been good, but another factor has been the play of Giménez. The DP has been better this year than he was in the past, as he actually looks like he’s trying sometimes. However, that’s not enough, especially considering just how poor he used to be. He still coasts through games sometimes, and he fails to make any sort of impact on proceedings. He can play a lovely pass on occasion, but that’s it. There’s still a spot for him off the bench, of course, and that role could actually suit him better since he’d be up against tired legs.

In terms of the starting lineup, though, the best midfield pairing is Navarro and Pineda.

Przybyłko stays forward

One of the few Fire players who have disappointed this campaign is Kacper Przybyłko, although it’s not entirely his fault.

The striker, who was acquired in the offseason via a trade with the Philadelphia Union, has yet to score in over 180 minutes of play. That’s not too concerning, but the fact that he’s only looked close to scoring once or twice during that stretch is what’s scary. He was roasted a bit on Twitter following his performance versus Orlando, and the whole situation just isn’t looking good at the moment.

However, a lot of the blame can’t be put on him. First things first, he’s not getting tons of service. Chicago’s a team going through some growing pains at the moment, so they’re not creating a lot of chances. That leaves Przybyłko as a somewhat isolated figure up top that has to fight for scraps.

He’s not even up top all the time, which is the biggest problem. In this current Fire system, the forward has to drop deep and help link up play. If he had support in the final third then this could work, as someone would fly into the spaces he’s vacating. That’s not happening, though, so the opposition penalty area is sometimes completely empty.

At one point of the contest this past weekend, Przybyłko received the ball in his own half while Chicago had possession. That cannot happen anymore.

He’s got the ability to move the ball around thanks to his passing and dribbling ability, but his focus has to be on scoring goals. Keep him in the box, and use him as a target to aim for. You don’t always have to pass the ball around like prime Barcelona, as a simple cross into the box could lead to a goal in the blink of an eye.

The Fire cannot afford to have Przybyłko end up being another Robert Berić, but the way things are going at the moment, that might be exactly what happens.

Shaqiri out wide

This would be the toughest change due to the club’s current personnel.

Xherdan Shaqiri’s start to life in Chicago has been pretty good. He’s already shown how much class and quality he possesses, providing highlight after highlight courtesy of his skills on the ball. It also certainly looks like he cares, and that he really wants to win.

However, he’s been unable to have a real impact in the final third. The Swiss international has created a few chances, but none have been finished. As a result, he’s yet to register a goal contribution this season, although that’s not too alarming since there have only been two games.

What is a worry is that he sometimes struggles with playing up the middle. Used as an attacking midfielder, some of Shaqiri’s traits suit the role well, but it’s not really an ideal fit. You can tell he’s not really used to it, and something just seems to be off. That is proven by his heat maps, as he tends to drift to the right during games, which is where he used to play.

That’s why he should return to the right wing. He’s at his best there, as the position highlights his strengths. The attacker can pick the ball up with more space around him, and then he’s able to use his quickness and dribbling ability to either fly down the sideline or cut inside and cause chaos.

The only problem with moving him out wide is that someone has to take his place in the middle. Chicago doesn’t have a true central attacking midfielder on the roster, and even though Jairo Torres could play there, he won’t arrive for another few months. 

However, there is someone that could do the job, and that man is Fabian Herbers. He’s not a traditional number 10, but he wouldn’t need to be in the Fire’s current system. His job would be to link up play with Shaqiri, press the opposition, and make late forward runs in order to support Przybyłko or fill in the spaces vacated by the striker when he drops deep.

Herbers can be a threat in the final third, and everyone knows how much of a workhorse he is in midfield.

All that in mind, it could work. At the very least, it would get the most out of Shaqiri, which is the most important thing.