Entering the 2022 MLS season, the Chicago Fire made big moves, brought in former Columbus Crew assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson as head coach and unveiled a new and improved logo. With all the excitement, the Fire sit in last place in the Eastern Conference. Why is that?
Massive Report spoke with someone that covers the team itself. Alex Calabrese writes for Hot Time in Old Town, a site focused on Chicago Fire soccer. Massive Report asked him about Chicago’s biggest signing, their 2022 season so far and what’s going wrong?
Here’s what you need to know for Saturday’s match.
Massive Report: Entering this weekend, it’s safe to say that both Chicago and Columbus aren’t where they’d like to be at this point in the season. Can you summarize the Fire’s season up to this point? What are some bright spots and what’s hurt the Fire?
HTiOT: The Fire came into this season with a buzz around the team that hasn’t been felt since Bastian Schweinsteiger’s first season in 2017. It started so well too, going unbeaten through the first five matches, only conceding one goal. But it all fell apart after that point; a 10-game winless run marred by individual mistakes and poor finishing has effectively put the playoffs out of reach. Some recent good results, including a 1-0 home win over the Philadelphia Union, have been a bright spot, as have the encouraging performances of promising homegrowns Gaga Slonina (18) and Brian Gutiérrez (19).
MR: The big offseason signing was Champions League winner and former Liverpool bench playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri. A lot was made about Shaqiri joining the Fire but an early injury’s taken away a lot of that luster. How has the signing gone when he’s been able to play?
HTiOT: The overall assessment is that Shaqiri has been pretty good, but not worth the $8 million annual salary that he is being paid. He’s been exclusively deployed centrally as 10 – an unfamiliar role, having played mostly out wide in Europe – but he’s still been the primary playmaker and chance-creator for the Fire. Shaqiri’s main problem has been staying on the field, suffering two injury layoff periods, and the Fire front three’s failure to finish chances has not helped his production.
MR: Shaqiri drew the attention, but Chicago made multiple signings this offseason, including new head coach Ezra Hendrickson. How have other signings fared this year? For Saturday, what are some less-known names that Crew supporters should watch out for?
HTiOT: On paper, the Fire had a blockbuster offseason, picking up Rafa Czichos, Kacper Przybyłko, and Shaqiri, among others. Jairo Torres and Chris Mueller were added early in the season as well, providing instant upgrades on the wing. However, that has not translated into results.
Torres has struggled to stay healthy, Mueller has struggled to finish, and Przybyłko has struggled overall, with Czichos the only one who has been relatively consistent. In his first stint as a head coach, Ezra Hendrickson has also had a learning curve, but there are encouraging signs that he can be a success even if he has thus far failed to get the best out of a poorly-constructed roster.
One player to keep an eye on is the 19-year-old attacking midfielder from the Chicago area, Gutiérrez, who is viewed by the club as one of its top prospects; he recently scored his first pro goal against the San Jose Earthquakes.