There were some positive grades, but most of it was ugly. That made sense, as Chicago’s season as a whole was quite bad, and the main reason for that was the poor showings of the players.
Now it’s time to assess the rest of the team. Unfortunately this week won’t be much better, as the Fire were even worse going forward than they were at the back.
Who were the worst offenders, though? Let’s find out.
This season was a cursed one for Jairo Torres.
The signing of the Young Designated Player was announced in the offseason, and his arrival was set for the following May. It was a move that excited many across the league given his proven talent in Liga MX at the age of 22
However, Torres just never got going. He missed the first two games of the month with an injury, and that issue led to him being slowly integrated into the side. He finally got to start a game, and then he got hurt once again, which ruled him out for another few weeks.
He had to rebuild his match fitness, and it took four games of cameos off the bench before he returned to the starting lineup. After five matches of almost absolutely nothing, the Mexican picked up another injury. That was enough to rule him out for the season, and he would undergo surgery on his hip soon after.
So, in five and a half months, Torres only started six contests. It’s tough to blame a player for injury issues, but the fact that such a key player missed so much time was critical in terms of how this season went for Chicago.
Then again, even when he was on the field, he didn’t do much. He failed to register a single goal contribution over the course of the campaign. He wasn’t necessarily bad, per se, but he was usually an absent figure when he was on the pitch. That’s not enough from a DP.
The future is still bright for Torres and the Fire, of course, but his debut year was certainly one to forget.
Chris Mueller’s campaign could not have been more different.
A midseason acquisition that came out of nowhere, the former Orlando City man joined Chicago from Scottish side Hibernian FC. He was brought in to try and kick-start a struggling offensive unit, and all things considered, he did that pretty well early on.
After making his debut off the bench, Mueller started all but one of the team’s games for the rest of the campaign. He scored a sublime goal on his second start, and he then played a key role in the Fire’s brief summer resurgence. At one point he had three goals and three assists in the span of seven games.
However, things dropped off after that. He added two more assists to his tally before the year was done, but the American wasn’t quite as effective.
See, unlike Torres, Mueller was always a presence in the attack. He loved getting on the ball, and even though he would pass it from time to time, he would first look to dribble at his marker. That worked well initially, as he added a new dynamic to the attack, and he opened up space for others.
Other team’s started to gameplan for this, though, and the number 8 suffered. He almost became a selfish figure, and it looked like he was trying to single-handedly carry the club on a weekly basis. It’s nice to see a player have self-belief, but it’s not so nice to see when it ends up hurting those around him.
All in all this season was still a solid one from Mueller, and there’s a chance he’ll be even better in 2023.
Xherdan Shaqiri just wasn’t good enough this year.
It’s hard to understate how big of a deal his signing was back when Chicago announced the move. They were getting someone who had featured for Europe’s elite, was a superstar at the international level, and was only 30 years old. Supporters could not contain their excitement, and some experts thought he’d be one of the league’s very best players.
Instead, Shaqiri was pretty much another guy. He was good for most of the campaign, and he didn’t really have many disasterclasses. However, there were very few games where he was a star, and that was what the Fire brought him in to be. Four of his seven goals came from the penalty spot, and his six assists was far from a mind-blowing number. (MLS says he had 11 but that’s counting secondary assists, which aren’t really counted across the world.)
His struggles weren’t all his fault, to be fair. He kept getting bit by the injury bug, which meant that he wasn’t at 100% for a lot of the season. Then there was the fact that head coach Ezra Hendrickson kept utilizing him at the number 10 spot when he’s more used to playing out wide. The Swiss captain is a serviceable central attacking midfielder, but he’s just able to do more when he’s out wide.
The fanbase has somewhat turned on him as of late due to his lofty salary, and he’ll have a lot to prove when the next campaign rolls around. He could be better, but people should make sure their expectations are a lot lower than what they used to be.
Not everyone can be a star. Every team sport has role players, those who rarely grab the headlines but still do a job whenever they’re called upon.
There are few role players in MLS better than Fabian Herbers. He can slot in at almost any position, and the only place he’d not do well is in net. He’s useful out wide or up the middle in the final third if you need goal contributions, or he can play deeper to add defensive support depending on the situation at hand. He’d probably be just fine at fullback as well.
Then there’s his consistency. The German may not have many memorable performances, but you know that he’ll put in a solid shift whenever called upon. He’s also a good presence to have in the locker room, as he’s a very hard worker, and he never complains about his role in the squad.
Chicago maybe had to play him a little too much due to the club’s numerous injuries since he featured in every game he was available for, but Herbers did what he could to help the side. He’s a great person to have on the roster, and he’ll be ready to do more of the same once next year rolls around.
The fact that one of the Fire’s best players this season wasn’t a starter partially sums up why things were the way they were.
When everyone was healthy, Mauricio Pineda had to settle for a spot on the bench. The center back positions were covered by Rafael Czichos and Wyatt Omsberg or Carlos Terán, while Gastón Giménez and Federico Navarro were the go-to center midfielders.
The homegrown did get plenty of chances in the side thanks to the aforementioned injury issues, and whenever he was called upon, he delivered. Able to do a little bit of everything all of the time, he made an impact all across the field.
He was reliable in the heart of the defense, and his passing and dribbling ability added a new layer to the team at times. Pineda was even better when in midfield, as he gave Chicago added defensive strength while also being a threat in the final third.
The only problem was that he didn’t play more. The 25-year-old should be a starter for the club at this stage, and this upcoming offseason will be key in terms of finding a spot for him in the lineup. If the Fire fail to do so, then they’ll just be hurting themselves once again.
He simply cannot start ahead of Pineda next season.
The duality of man is epitomized by Chicago’s midfield two.
While Giménez was stealing a living, Federico Navarro was out there fighting on a weekly basis. The latter was a star upon his arrival at the end of 2021, and his performances injected hope into the club.
The Argentine took some time to get going this campaign, but once he found his groove he was back to his very best. A pitbull in the middle of the park, he uses his diminutive frame to his advantage. He flies around the field, going into challenge after challenge on anyone who is on the ball. He’s more than just a defensive anchor as well, chipping in with a few goals and assists over the course of the year.
Navarro is only 22 years old, so he’ll only get better and better. The Fire recently signed him to a long-term deal that will keep him with the club for the foreseeable future, which is one of the smartest things they’ve done in a while. Even if he decides to leave in due time, the club will be able to get a decent transfer fee from whichever international outfit decides to buy him.
Until then, supporters should enjoy getting to see him play his heart out. If the club are able to build around him, then the midfielder could legitimately become one of Major League Soccer’s very best.
This is the part of the article where the segments get a lot smaller.
Sergio Oregel really only made one appearance with the first team this season, going for 90 minutes in the Open Cup loss to Union Omaha. That was not a good showing from him, as he was bodied in the middle of the park by those bigger and older than him, and it led to his side losing against lower league opposition. He also made a cameo in the season finale, but he didn’t really do much of anything there.
The good thing is that the 17-year-old had some success with the Fire II team. He had six assists in 17 appearances, showcasing the playmaking talent he does possess. That experience should help him in his development, and it’s clear he still has to grow before he becomes a consistent option in MLS.
The future is still bright, though.
Javier Jr. Casas
There was even less of Javier Jr. Casas this campaign.
He technically had five appearances in MLS, but he only played for a combined 34 minutes across those contests. He did play the entire game in the Open Cup, staying on the field for the overtime period, but he also had a rough go of it on that night.
The midfielder didn’t light up MLS Next Pro either, although he missed a lot of those matches because he was sat on the first team bench. His case is a weird one, as he’s trusted enough to be in the squad for the Fire, but he’s never turned to when those games actually happen.
Casas is 19, so the next few years will be crucial for him and his career. Hopefully fans will actually get to see more of him in 2023.
Alex Monis may have only played a single minute for the first team, but he ended up providing one of Chicago’s highlights of the season.
Thrown up top in the final moments of the last game of the campaign versus the New England Revolution, nothing was really expected of him. However, in a moment that seemed written in the stars, a loose ball managed to fall his way at the backpost. The forward made the most of the fortunate break, slamming home from close range to cue scenes of celebration.
The rest of his year was alright, as he scored five goals with the Fire II while being on the bench for the first team on a few occasions. The high-point was obviously his season-ending goal, though, and there’s a good chance that moment could be the catalyst for a quality career.
Now to a homegrown who got a lot of minutes this past season.
Brian Gutiérrez was effectively the first man off the bench for the attack. The trio of Jairo Torres, Chris Mueller, and Xherdan Shaqiri were the go-to starters when they were healthy, but the thing was they were almost never all healthy at the same time.
That meant chances in the side for Gutiérrez. Did he make the most of them? Well, that’s a tough question to answer.
The midfielder was able to showcase his ability during games. He’s very good on the ball, able to settle it with a first touch and then dribble at a defender. He can also contribute going up the pitch, and although his shooting needs some work, he’s already a strong passer. Then there’s his reliability, as he usually puts in a decent shift when need be.
However, something was missing. For a lot of the campaign Gutiérrez was just kind of there. He’d have a nice flick or a clever bit of skill in midfield, but when it came to the end product, he was lacking. The stats show that, as he only registered two goals and five assists over the course of the year, and three of those goal contributions came in a late-season game against FC Cincinnati when Chicago was already eliminated from playoff contention.
Maybe it’s only me, as a large chunk of the fanbase really loves the 19-year-old. I still think he could become a real threat in all areas of the pitch down the line, but for now, he’s not quite the finished product.
Then again, he deserves praise for still having a decent year despite everything going on with the club.
If you asked Fire fans to name the entire roster, a name some would probably forget is Stanislav Ivanov.
Coming over at the beginning of 2021, he could not have had a more cursed start to life in the Windy City. He tore his meniscus before the campaign even began, which ruled him out for three months. The rest of the year kind of passed him by since he spent most of it trying to get back to full fitness.
It looked like a comeback was on the cards when Ivanov scored the opening goal of the third game of the season, which led to a surprising road win for Chicago. However, that was really his only impact of the campaign.
The Bulgarian had plenty of opportunities to prove himself, as he started nine of the first ten games. That sole strike was his only goal contribution, though, and he didn’t really do much beyond the scoresheet either. He seems to be too passive, looking to make a simple pass first instead of taking on his defender.
Ivanov is now the fifth-choice attacker in the frontline three, and if he does stay another year then he’ll find minutes hard to come by. However, injuries do happen, and he has a bit of talent, so maybe fans will see more from him in 2023.
Don’t bank on it, though.
There’s a lot of words you could use to describe Kacper Przybyłko’s season.
Bad. Awful. Woeful. Horrific. Shambolic. Brutal. Cringeworthy. That’s all without me turning to a thesaurus.
He did come to the club with some expectations. Acquired via a trade with the Philadelphia Union, Przybyłko had been one of the better forwards in MLS. He was a consistent goalscorer on a good team, and there was hope that his goals could propel the Fire into the playoff picture.
That’s not what happened at all. The number 11 was abysmal in the opening three games of the campaign. A lucky brace could have been the spark for a turnaround, but instead it led to more of the same. He only scored once over the course of the following three months, and he lost his starting spot in the lineup as a result.
Another brace away to Charlotte FC was a highlight, but that was it really. Przybyłko was simply a shell of himself all year. It looked like he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he would go one way, and then the ball would go the other. He dropped too far deep at times, which took him out of the play once Chicago got into the final third. Even when a chance fell his way, he usually bottled it.
He’s making good money, so one of the club’s main priorities this offseason will be to get him off the books somehow. The forward can’t start in this current system, and there’s reason to believe he’s not good enough to be a backup either, especially at his current salary.
He has to go.
The player who replaced him in the lineup was Jhon Durán.
Many were happy with how this season went for the Colombian. There was plenty of hype surrounding the 18-year-old to start the year, although it took him a while to get off the blocks. His breakout game happened in the summer when he scored twice versus Toronto FC, and from that point onwards he was the one responsible for leading the line.
That all built to the end of the campaign. Durán had a run where he scored twice in a game, then assisted twice in the next, grabbed another goal, and then had a brace in the final game. That’s seven goal contributions in the span of four matches from a teenager in their rookie season.
However, the brakes need to be pumped a little bit when it comes to Durán. He did have his moments, of course, but he was still very inconsistent. There were a number of games where he failed to do anything. He kind of just ran around, and he didn’t know how to help the side in possession. Those games happened against teams who stayed back defensively, which meant that he couldn’t utilize his raw pace in behind.
He’s too one-dimensional. His age and lack of experience is a big reason why at the moment, and it’s clear he’ll improve in those areas as time goes on. He does need more time, though, and it’s too soon for the Fire to put all their attacking hopes on the forward.
If Durán can be a consistent threat in the final third next season, then the sky's the limit for him and his potential transfer fee. I still feel he needs one more year, though.
Missael Rodríguez’s only appearance for the first team came in the Open Cup.
Used on the left wing, he had a few openings over the course of the contest, but he could never quite make things work. A pass would be misplaced, or a shot wouldn’t come off right, and the move ended without any fanfare. It wasn’t the worst showing of all time, but it was a bit underwhelming.
His MLS Next Pro campaign seemed to be more of the same, but he ended the season quite well, scoring in six of the team’s last 11 games. That will hopefully be big for his development, as he should start to learn how to convert from a number of different positions and angles.
Hopefully Rodríguez gets more opportunities to prove himself next year.
Victor Bezerra did get to play a bit more, which makes sense considering the fact that he’s a bit older. It wasn’t a lot, though.
He had three appearances of nine minutes or more in MLS, and he was underwhelming in those brief showings. The Indiana University product didn’t actually start in the Open Cup, but he did play the final 45 minutes, and he converted his penalty kick in the shootout. Meanwhile, in the reserve league, he scored eight times in 16 matches. That’s pretty good, but it’s not quite groundbreaking.
Next year is the big one for Bezerra. He will be 23 once the campaign starts, and it might be his last chance to prove what he’s capable of. He needs to get more chances in the team, though, and a lack of serious minutes could really stall his career.
If the forward gets an opportunity, he might just make the most of it.
Ok, Chinonso Offor may have been traded away before the campaign was over, but he started the year in Chicago, so I’ll count it.
He had a 30-minute cameo early in the season against Orlando, and then he had a run of three straight starts in the month of May. While the Nigerian scored away to Atlanta United, that was really it in terms of his impact on the side.
There’s something there with Offor, but he’s just too raw of a prospect. He’s fast, and he’s strong, but those physical traits are negated by his poor decision-making and lack of technical ability. He was too uncontrolled, and his erratic play hurt the team.
It made sense for him to be shipped away when all was said and done.
Fair play to him for trying, at least. Not every Fire player did that.