The Fire’s fullback position has been a constant game of musical chairs, and recently it has gained a new player. Brandt Bronico has made four starts in a row at right back, and it seems like Veljko Paunović wants him to be a longer term option at right back rather than just a band-aid.
This team has a track record of playing guys out of position, and Pauno has tried 3 different central midfielders at right back in his time in Chicago. Drew Conner got a chance at it but never made the spot his own. Matt Polster definitely made the spot his own, and was one of the best in the league at it until he left for greener pastures. So is Bronico going to make it his own or just become another failed experiment?
In these last 4 games we have already seen a few things that Bronico does that translate from one role to the other. One of them is his engine. Midfielders generally need to cover a ton of space in games, as do fullbacks. Modern fullbacks have to attack, there’s no getting around it, so the ability to make an overlapping run and then sprint back to recover on a counter attack is a necessary skill.
He has also shown an ability to take the ball off guys in 1v1 or loose ball situations, which is a necessity for fullbacks because they are often isolated in those situations. His defensive positioning is okay as well, and if he continues playing right back for the rest of the season I think he will grow more comfortable in the position. Every game he has looked more and more at home out wide.
He also fits on the attacking side of things. Bronico has sneaky-great vision and touch on through balls. Several times in the past few games he put in perfectly weighted balls to wingers to get in behind the defense. He also has pretty good touch on crosses, so the overlapping that is expected from fullbacks suits itself to his offensive skillset. Bronico is a versatile player, and Pauno is happy to give the team freedom of movement on the offensive side of the ball, so that versatility fits with what Pauno expects from the team’s attack. He seems to have a knack for making himself an option when the Fire have possession.
Bronico has consistently surprised me with how much he improves from season to season. The #Grindset is the real deal folks, and in his recent video on the Fire’s YouTube page he said “I just love to play. Regardless of the position, I just love to be on the field and help contribute to the team”. He’s definitely the kind of guy that will put his head down and work to learn something new if he sees an opportunity to make his mark and earn playing time.
He may not be the starter for the entire rest of the year, but I think his recent performances have earned him a place as, at the very least, the second option behind Johan Kappelhof once he returns. If Bronico keeps impressing Pauno I would not be surprised to see a back line of him and Francisco Calvo flanking Kappelhof and Bastian Schweinsteiger.