The Chicago Fire’s latest offseason campaign is starting to pick up steam following the conclusion of the World Cup.

They’ve not been too busy themselves, but the MLS window is slowly rolling on. The SuperDraft just happened, and a few marquee free agents have already been taken off the board.

It’s almost time for Chicago to dive into things, but before they can do that, they’ve got to look at the roster they have right now. Earlier in the week I wrote about the issues in the side, but this time I’ll be a bit more positive.

The Fire has some real talents, and it’s these players who they should build around over the course of the winter. 

Xherdan Shaqiri

Saying Xherdan Shaqiri is quite good at the whole soccer thing isn’t really a new opinion. However, it wasn’t the opinion of many Chicago fans following the end of last season.

The Switzerland international had a rough debut campaign. It wasn’t all his fault, as he played through injury for most of the year, and he was being used out of position. However, his own performances left a lot to be desired, especially since he started the year as the highest paid player in the league.

Supporters hadn’t completely turned on him, but there were legitimate worries that Shaqiri was washed. Most of those concerns have probably faded as of late, though.

That is because of the World Cup. The attacker had a wonderful tournament, playing a key part in Switzerland’s run to the knockout rounds. He assisted the lone goal in the opener, and then he dropped a masterclass in the deciding group game. 

His run in the competition showcased who Shaqiri can be when he’s put in the right environment. So, the Fire now has to put him in that.

Start playing him out wide. Get a big-name striker to lead the line and take some pressure off the club’s number 10. Track his minutes better, and make sure he gets enough rest as the year goes on.

If Chicago can do that, then they’ll end up reaping the rewards.

Rafael Czichos

A man who will thrive no matter what is Rafael Czichos.

The offseason acquisition had to play with two different centerback partners, and a number of different names at fullback, and he was always brilliant. He hit the ground running, taking no time to cement himself as the team’s leader on the pitch.

Czichos was given the captain’s armband before the campaign even kicked off, which is rare for someone who had never played for the club. He quickly proved that he deserved it, though, and he played a monstrous role in the defense’s early turnaround. 

Things faded a bit for the unit as the season went on, but that was not because of the Saudi-born German. At one point early on in the year he was so good I thought he was one of the Fire’s Designated Players. (He really does deserve the upgraded status, not going to lie, but the club are going to keep him on his current deal for as long as they can.)

If Chicago can build the backline around Czichos, then they could have one of the best defenses in the entire league. They’ll have to decide between Wyatt Omsberg and Carlos Terán in terms of the other center back spot, but the main concern will be the two fullbacks alongside them.

At the very least, the Fire knows their captain will deliver regardless.

Federico Navarro

Federico Navarro is so good, man.

That’s really the best way I can sum him up at the moment. The midfielder came to the club in the middle of the 2021 campaign, and he was immediately brilliant. He hit a bit of a rough patch to start this past season, but once he found his feet again, he hit new heights.

A tenacious presence in the middle of the field, Navarro is an absolute nuisance to play against. He’s quick enough to fly around the park, chasing down players and cutting off passing lanes. Then there’s his unique stature, as his 5'8” frame helps him win the ball whenever he goes into a challenge, which is quite often.

Then came the big evolution to his game. The Argentine went from a defensive specialist to a box-to-box threat last year, pitching in with a few goals and assists over the course of the campaign. He wasn’t Lionel Messi or anything, but this meant that he could make even more of an impact on the side.

Now Chicago has to figure out who to slot in alongside him.

Mauricio Pineda was impressive last time out, and the two formed a solid partnership, even if the latter isn’t the most spectacular talent. Gastón Giménez is who the club really wants to play there, and he’ll probably get the nod at the start of next season, but he’s only ever disappointed when he's played. 

Maybe a new name could be brought in to fill the gap. Someone who compliments Navarro’s style well, and would help cover in the areas he lacks. That sort of signing might change everything. 

Either way, the Fire will still have Navarro. They signed him to a long-term contract extension back in September, which was one of the smartest decisions they’ve made in quite some time. He’s already been superb, so imagine his what his potential could be if the club builds around him.

In the words of Michael Jordan, “The ceiling is the roof.”

Brian Gutiérrez

This one’s a bit more interesting. 

Gutiérrez isn’t a starter for Chicago. When everyone’s healthy, the trio of Shaqiri, Chris Mueller, and Jairo Torres make up the attacking three who support the striker. 

That makes the young American the team's 12th man. It was a role he did alright in last season, as he had moments of promise, but there were also a few periods of nothing. 

He likely will come off the bench in 2023, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have a reduced role. If the Fire play their cards right, then Gutiérrez could be a key player in the side. 

The aforementioned trio all have injury issues, and that’ll likely impact their availability next season. So, to try and minimize that, Chicago should often rotate at least one of them out the lineup at a time, leaving a space for the homegrown. 

Then, when Gutiérrez is used, he should be utilized centrally. His technical ability on the ball does help him on the wing, but he lacks the raw pace and power needed to be a top-tier winger. However, he won’t need to be as fast at the number 10 position, and he can instead rely on his quickness to get by opponents and create chances. 

It's also important that the Fire don't try to bring in anyone else in that area of the field. The club will be tempted to sign a TAM-level player with more experience to be an option off the bench, but that would limit the opportunities for their youngsters, like Guti.

There’s a reason why he’s been a presence for the United States at the youth level. Trust the process, and trust in Gutiérrez.