Ignacio Aliseda knows what you’re thinking.
As he enters his second year with the Chicago Fire, Aliseda knows many fans felt his 2020 performances weren’t good enough to warrant a Designated Player contract. One goal and two assists in 1402 minutes for a guy signed to be a dynamic attacking player just wasn’t enough.
He knows, because he agrees with you.
“My 2020 season wasn’t as good as I wanted,” Aliseda said at the beginning of training camp. “Maybe I had my expectations set too high. I had few goals and few assists, and it really just wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. But now I think coming into 2021, I have renewed energies and a renewed desire to improve, and I think we can see that with everyone where everyone has renewed desire to make the group better.”
Aliseda joined the Fire in early March 2020, just before the match against the New England Revolution. He was on the bench at Gillette Stadium, but didn’t see action in that match, which ended in a 1-1 draw after a late equalizer by Jonathan Bornstein.
A few days later, the season stopped, and the stay-at-home order went in place. Aliseda was stuck in a new country—where he didn’t really know his teammates—sitting in his new apartment, waiting.
“When we got back to training, we didn’t know each other very well,” Aliseda explained. “I think maybe there were like seven training sessions or something like that, and also, last season I wasn’t there for preseason training and I think this year, it’s important to start together and everyone be together because you can see it from the beginning, how hard everyone is working. I really like doing preseason because you can see everyone getting to know each other and working hard and then during the season, you can tell how hard everyone worked during the preseason.”
Fire coach Raphael Wicky deployed Aliseda in two positions last season—as a central No. 10, and as a wide attacker. Coming into 2021, he faces competition for a starting job in both spots. New winger Stanislav Ivanov and veteran Przemyslaw Frankowski will both be vying for spots out wide, and a healthy Luka Stojanovic should make a strong push for the 10 role. So where does that leave Aliseda?
“I feel better playing as a No. 10 than on the wing on the outside,” Aliseda said. “But I like both positions. I just feel better as a 10. We haven’t had that talk yet, but I will be out there and play wherever (Wicky) puts me, and whatever position he thinks I should be playing.”
Wherever he plays, the Fire will need Aliseda to contribute. Robert Beric led the team with 12 goals last season. Fabian Herbers chipped in another four, and Mauricio Pineda and Frankowski each scored three. The Fire led the Eastern Conference in expected goals (xG), but struggled to finish chances outside of Beric. Plenty of chances, not nearly enough goals.
“I think last year we depended a lot on him, Robert Berić on him to score,” Aliseda said. “We just depended a lot on his capabilities, and the other forwards we didn’t have the capacity to support him and to be scoring those goals at that time.”
Aliseda is still only 20 years old—he turns 21 in a few days. His 2020 wasn’t great, but he’s certainly not a player to write off just yet. He had a rough 2020 as a young man away from his family for the first time, in a new country, during a pandemic. It’s easy to see why he might have struggled. But in 2021, there are no more excuses. It’s time for “Nacho” to show what he can do.
“I’m feeling very good this year,” Aliseda said. “I’m feeling much more confident and now this season we’re all playing together, training together, and if we are all together in this, then we are all going to be able to support each other and get more goals as a group. I think sometimes goals are a little bit of luck. Sometimes you go on a lucky scoring streak, but I know this year we are going to give a lot more both as a group, and me personally, I’m going to give a lot more.”