The Chicago Fire signed a bunch of new players, played two matches while some of those players were still working out visa issues and had yet to join the team, and then went on coronavirus hiatus for more than three months.
So, I don’t blame you if you’re having a hard time remembering who actually plays for this team. With that in mind, here’s a refresher guide on all the new Fire players you’ll see in the MLS is Back Tournament starting July 8 against Nashville SC.
“Nacho” is a 20-year-old lightning fast winger from Argentina, who last played for Defensa y Justicia in his native country’s top division. Aliseda got to Chicago a couple days before the New England match. He trained and traveled with the team, but didn’t see any time on the field. Aliseda occupies one of the Fire’s three designated player spots. At 20, he’s a bit of a gamble as a DP, but his upside is tremendous. Shortly after he got to Chicago, Hot Time in Old Town landed the first U.S. interview with Aliseda. The Fire are expecting big things from Aliseda, and we should expect him to play a lot.
The 29-year-old Slovenian striker was an instant hit with Fire fans when he downed a shot of Malort in his player introduction video, and then he backed up the hype by scoring in the opening match against Seattle. Berić is a designated player, and I can tell you from watching him at training, he’s a leader and a big personality who always seems to be having fun. He joined the Fire from Saint-Etienne in France, where he spent the last few seasons. Prior to that, Berić finished 11th in the European Golden Shoe award while playing for Rapid Wien in the Austrian Bundesliga after scoring 30 goals in the 2014-15 season.
The 28-year-old hulking defensive midfielder joined the Fire from Argentina’s Veléz Sarsfield. He actually arrived in Chicago only a couple days before the New England match, and had hardly trained, but Raphael Wicky trusted him enough to play him for the final 30 minutes. He delivered with a tremendous long pass to Djordje Mihailović, who crossed the ball onto Jonathan Bornstein’s head for the equalizer. “Tonga” is definitely a leader on the Fire, and we should expect Wicky—who was also a defensive mid in his playing days—will trust Giménez to be his right hand man on the pitch. Internationally, Giménez has one cap for Argentina’s national team.
The former Real Madrid product was actually the Fire’s final signing before Wicky and new sporting director Georg Heitz took over, and it looks like Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunović got it right. Medrán was clearly one of Chicago’s best players in the first two matches of the season, roaming the central midfield with confidence. He’s extremely tidy on the ball, and like Aliseda, Berić and Giménez, Medrán will likely be a regular starter in Wicky’s XI.
Sekulić is a big, fast, strong outside back, who came to the Fire from Polish side Gornik Zabrze. The deal seemed to take forever, and Sekulić started training with Chicago the day before the coronavirus hiatus began, so he’s yet to play. He will likely play on the right side of the defense, either as an outside back, or as a wingback if Wicky shifts to three at the back, like he did after Giménez entered the match against the Revs. Sekulić was born in Serbia, but has two caps with Slovakia’s national team.
Stojanović and Sekulić arrived in Chicago together, so he has also yet to play for the club. Stojanović is an attacking midfielder, who scored a ton of goals in the Serbian SuperLiga before coming to Chicago. After the final training session in March before the shutdown, Frank Klopas told me he was impressed with Stojanović. It’s unclear exactly how Wicky will deploy him, but with Stojanović, Berić, Mihailović, Aliseda, CJ Sapong, Przemyslaw Frankowski, Fabian Herbers, and Elliot Collier all competing for spots in the attack, Wicky has plenty of quality options.
The Fire homegrown signing was strong in his two starts this season. He showed versatility, playing as a defensive mid, before shifting back to central defender when Giménez entered the match against New England. He has the potential to be very, very good, and if Wicky goes to three at the back, he could be a regular starter along with Francisco Calvo and Johan Kappelhof, with Bornstein and Sekulić shifting to wingbacks.
Miguel Angel Navarro
The 21-year-old Venezuelan left back joined the Fire from Deportivo La Guaira, and is signed through 2022, with club options for 2023 and 2024. He has nine caps for Venezuela at the youth national team level. He came on for the final nine minutes plus stoppage against the Revolution, so does that mean he’s going to be a regular right away? That’s tough to say. What is clear—the Fire really like his upside.
The towering central defender joined Chicago from Minnesota in a trade in February. He made 15 starts for Forward Madison last season, before the Fire-Forward Madison partnership began. Omsberg played with Calvo in Minnesota, so the two are familiar with one another. He could see time as a backup defender, or he could return to Madison.
You know Bobby Shuttleworth. He’s been a fixture in MLS for a very long time, and gave the Fire fits as the Revs’ goalkeeper several years ago. Lately, he’s been with Minnesota United, and spent the back end of last season at USL Championship side Sacramento Republic. He’s a reliable backup to Kenneth Kronholm, and definitely has the experience to push for the starting job.
Sparrow began his career in the Real Salt Lake system, and spent last season at Nashville SC in the USL. Sparrow came to the Fire on a trial, and impressed Wicky enough to earn a contract right away. Sparrow is one of five goalkeepers on the Fire’s first team roster, so it’s unclear if he’ll stay in Chicago, or if he’s Madison-bound.
Heitz had said he wanted to build up the Fire’s academy system when he took over, and as a former youth coach, Wicky loves having young players train with the first team. So, it’s not surprising that the club announced five new homegrown signings in March—goalkeeper Chris Brady, midfielders Javier Casas, Jr., Brian Gutierrez, and Allan Rodriguez, and forward Alex Monis. All of the players are either 16 or 17. They’re young, but Wicky hinted in a recent media availability that some of these guys could end up making the tournament roster. That’s exciting, and it will be fun to watch them grow while battling first team competition.