The Chicago Fire have had a ton of bad luck with injuries in recent times. The list of players that are out hurt is disturbingly long, with several key pieces missing from the team at the moment.
Thankfully, the Fire did receive a boost in that regard last night, as forward Luis Solignac returned from a quadricep strain that had taken him out of action since the second week of the season. However, while he should provide some much needed depth up the field, Fire fans must not get too excited about his comeback to the team, and expect too much from a player that has proven to be no more than a solid bench player.
When the Argentine entered the field, Fire color commentator Frank Klopas tried his best to paint his return as a big deal. The former coach mentioned how the Fire front office were expecting a double digit amount of goals from Solignac this season, and that his absence was a key part in the team’s poor start to the season. It was a bold claim, as there is not much evidence to back up those somewhat lofty expectations.
He has gotten plenty of chances throughout his time in Chicago, but has never really cemented himself as a quality forward able to be the focal point of the attack. Joining the Fire in the middle of the 2016 season, Solignac was given the responsibility of leading the front line alongside fellow newcomer Michael De Leeuw. Lucho would finish the season starting twelve games, while making another appearance off the bench, but only managed to score two goals without providing a single assist. Meanwhile, MDL managed to score seven times in a few more outings.
Last year was an improvement, but still not quite good enough. Solignac was a consistent starter in a front three alongside Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam that lead the Fire to a 3rd place finish in the Supporter Shield Standings. Lucho ended the year with a new personal goalscoring record as well. However, his tally only ended up at seven come the end of the season, with just two of those goals being game winners. The numbers speak for themselves. Solignac took a total of 45 shots, with only 15 of them getting on target, computing to a final percentage of 33%. In comparison, Nikolic got 50% of his shots on target, while Accam got 55% of his efforts on goal.
He did not show much more promise in the two games he played in this season before sustaining his injury. Solignac missed an open header against Sporting KC to start the year, and wasn’t much of a factor in the following contest away to Minnesota.
Simply put, Solignac is nowhere near clinical enough in the final third to be a starting striker in this league. He lacks true conviction whenever played through on goal, often taking too many touches on the ball, cutting down the angle for a shot or allowing the opposing keeper to close down the open space. When he is able to get a shot off, it’s usually hit with little power, making it an easy save on most occasions if his effort doesn’t harmlessly roll wide.
Some of these problems have been masked by his uncanny ability to score some truly unbelievable goals. Solignac lit up social media last season after scoring an outrageous backheel volley against St Louis in the Open Cup. His first goal for the club was a beauty as well, as he won the goal of the week after dribbling past the Montreal Impact defense before firing home.
However, it did not take long before fans were reminded of his lack of composure in front of goal last night. With the Fire down one late in the contest, Schweinsteiger slipped Solignac through after a quickly taken free kick. The Argentine had a lot of the goal to aim at, but rushed his chance, blasting a shot well off target. It would be hard to imagine Nikolic or any other elite MLS striker doing the same if they had the chance, which is the standard Lucho should be aiming for.
Then again, he has just returned from an extended layoff, and could’ve been shaking off some rust. Solignac will get the chance to redeem himself, as he will likely get the start this weekend against San Jose. Nikolic still needs a striker partner, as Jon Bakero has disappointed, while Alan Gordon has proven that his value only comes beyond the 75th minute. If Lucho is able to become a legitimate threat up the field, this somewhat stagnant Fire attack can really kick into high gear. However, only time will tell, and fans should lower their expectations before putting all of their faith in the feet of Solignac.