The 2018 season has been a nightmare on and off the pitch for the Chicago Fire. That much has been clear for some time now.
However, there have been some fleeting moments of promise. Nemanja Nikolic has proved he’s not just a one season wonder, while Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger have continued to fend off the ravages of time. They’ve been playing up to their high standard.
Other players have outperformed expectations. Here are some Men In Red who have surprised this season so far.
It didn’t seem like Brandt Bronico had much of a future earlier in his Fire career. Taken with the 47th pick in the 2017 draft, he only played 53 minutes in his rookie campaign and was loaned out the Tulsa Roughnecks. He featured in preseason, but wasn’t expected to see a lot of game time in a stacked midfield. He had to wait until the third month of the season to get his opportunity. But Bronico was able to prove himself and cement a spot in the lineup for the months to come. He added a creative spark to the midfield, dishing out four assists in a five game span. He’s since become a consistent starter alongside Schweinsteiger and McCarty in a midfield trio, even with the returns of Michael De Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic from injury. Sometimes, as Bronico has proven, it just takes a whole lotta grind to get where you need to go.
Taken as a late pick in the second round of the draft, Diego Campos wasn’t even technically a part of a roster throughout preseason. The Costa Rican had to fight for his spot during the offseason and was able to earn a contact right before the season officially kicked off. Even then, it seemed like he’d either get loaned out to Tulsa, or kept on the bench all year. Paunovic decided to give him a chance and Campos made the most of it. His versatility made him a key squad player, as he could come into any situation in any game. He started off the year as a dynamic right winger before filling in a hole at right back as the season went on. He did suffer an injury a month ago, and has since been loaned out to Indy Eleven, but Campos should have a key role in the team when he returns ahead of next season.
As a relative unknown upon his arrival, some fans feared Aleksandar Katai would flop for the Fire. They knew the talent was there, but his work ethic had been questioned in the past. These fears were amplified when he was benched by coach Paunovic only a few games into the season. Thankfully that seems to have been just a hitch, as Katai has since become a crucial part of the Chicago attack. His skills on the ball and long range shooting made him an instant fan favorite and the most exciting player on the pitch. His superb performances led to the club making his loan a permanent deal in the summer. Katai has cooled off in recent matches, but after having settled to the league for a full season, the winger should be even better at the start of next year.
There were high hopes for Mo Adams coming out of the most recent MLS draft. Coming in from Syracuse University by way of the Derby County academy, the Fire decided to take the Englishman with the 10th pick overall. Paunovic was hesitant to give him minutes early on but soon realized the kind of talent he had on his hands. Adams debut was a real trial by fire, kicking off his MLS career with a start at Red Bull Arena in April. He helped the Fire pick up a shock victory on that day. He impressed further a couple of weeks later when he personally shut down Ignacio Piatti in tough match against Montreal. He might not have had as many chances to impress in recent games, but it’s clear Adams is still one to watch out for as the years go on. With both Schweinsteiger and McCarty over the age of 30, it won’t be long until Adams goes from the future of the club to the present.