If the Chicago Fire are going to make a serious jump in the MLS Eastern Conference standings in 2021, the team will need more goals from players not named Robert Beric.
The Slovenian striker had a solid 2020, scoring 12 goals in 23 games, which was good for second place in the league. But, the Fire only scored 33 total goals last season, meaning Beric accounted for around 36 percent of the team’s output. That’s not ideal, but Beric feels his teammates are ready to step up and take some of the pressure off of him.
“I consider them really positive about that,” Beric said. “I mean, even last year, the guys besides me, they scored some goals. So I think we score almost every game, you know. So it’s one year we know each other better on the field and I think it’s going to be—it’s going to be a good season. I’m positive about that.”
The Fire’s lack of scoring outside of Beric wasn’t for a lack of chances. The team finished top of the Eastern Conference in expected goals (xG) in 2020, but struggled to score. According to FBRef, Ignacio Aliseda (1 G, 2.4 xG), Alvaro Medran (2 G, 2.9 xG), Przemyslaw Frankowski (3 G, 4.5 xG), Gaston Gimenez (0 G, 1.1 xG) and Elliot Collier (0 G, 2.2 xG) all underperformed their xG stats in 2020, as did Djordje Mihailovic (2 G, 3.9 xG), who was traded to Montreal in the off season.
“We don’t really want to be dependent only on one player,” Fire head coach Raphael Wicky said. “Now saying that, of course we all know that Robert was the guy who most often scored. But I want the midfielders to score goals. I think we expect from Nacho (Aliseda) that there is a next step also coming. We have Frankie, who finished the season strong, had a lot of chances during the year but didn’t convert them.”
Beric said another year together, one that hopefully won’t be filled with Covid-related stops-and-starts, will help, simply because the guys know each other now.
“You know how what kind of player is Medrán, what kind of player is Gastón, how he plays,” Beric said. “I know what he wants me, how he wants to play with me. All these details, I don’t know, for example with wingers, you feel them a little bit more on the pitch. I know what I can expect from from Herbers, from Frankowski, from Calvo or any other teammates. I just understand them a little bit more on the field, and that’s for sure something that is going to be better this season.”
We're still waiting on official word that the Fire can host fans at the April 17 home opener. When it happens, Robert Beric said it will mean a lot to actually see fans in the stands. #cffc #cf97 pic.twitter.com/QiVRAxmNW0— Patrick McCraney (@patrickmccraney) March 12, 2021
Two new attackers—winger Stanislav Ivanov and forward Chinonso Offor—will replace the departed Mihailovic and CJ Sapong, who joined Nashville SC. Plus, Luka Stojanovic, who played 61 minutes before suffering a season-ending injury, is back, healthy, and can potentially add scoring. Wicky expects all of them to step up this season.
“We brought in Offor, Stanislav Ivanov, and Elliot (Collier) who almost in every appearance he had, he created chances but needs to finish them,” Wicky said. “We have a lot of players who are able to create and score goals and I expect them and that’s what we wish that they do so, so that not everything is on Robert.”
April 17th’s regular season home opener against the New England Revolution is coming up quickly. To work out the bugs in the attack, the Fire will have four preseason matches in Florida, and potentially two more back in Chicago that aren’t yet official. That starts Saturday morning against NYCFC (11 a.m. CT, streamed live on ChicagoFireFC.com).
More Fire News: After his week-long quarantine, Miguel Navarro took part in full team training for the first time Thursday. He and Alvaro Medran were both late to camp because their U.S. green cards were being finalized. Medran is still in quarantine in Orlando, and will join the team early next week.