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Gastón Giménez: “My first goal is to go back to my level of play”

Despite a lot of praise, Chicago Fire FC’s star midfielder says he just wasn’t good enough in his debut season in MLS, and he has plans to get better

Chicago Fire midfielder Gastón Giménez
Chicago Fire FC

For being such a beast on the field, Chicago Fire central midfielder Gastón Giménez is a bit quiet off of it. He describes himself as a “more of a solitary person.” In news conferences, he generally speaks in his native Spanish, but at times, he’ll muster a soft “thank you” or “yes” in English. He’s very thoughtful in choosing his words.

It comes across well in the video the Fire put out for the schedule release last month. In it, a boisterous Robert Berić, who has a future as a TV pundit (or perhaps a comedian) is joined by Álvaro Medrán. The two go around knocking on hotel room doors, getting their teammates to come out and read a portion of the schedule on camera. The pack of teammates grows as the schedule gets later in the season. By the time they get to Giménez’s room, there’s a bunch of them standing outside. Giménez smiles, calmly reads his line—”Real Salt Lake, Octubre veintitrés”—and then goes back in his room.

As a cerebral guy, it’s not really a surprise Giménez spent some time reflecting in the off season. His conclusion? 2020 wasn’t good enough. He says he didn’t play up to “his” level.

“I’ve always been very into what I’m doing, very into football, and maybe a little bit obsessive even, trying not to commit too many mistakes or make many errors,” Giménez explains. “I think last year I made a lot of errors, and I didn’t correct them necessarily throughout the season. During the break I really took time to reflect. I have to go back and see what I can improve on because I need to be up to the standard, I need to be at that better level so that we can contribute more to the team and help the team be better.”

Giménez’s pairing with Medrán was actually one of the bright points of the season, which saw the Fire struggle to maintain leads, winning only five games all season. Despite the losses, the two looked like old teammates the way they connected with ease. But, head coach Raphael Wicky says both men will need to step it up in 2021.

“They’re two really, really good players,” Wicky said. “I think they understood each other pretty quickly on the field. They understood how to work together as a double pivot on the field. They have amazing quality. But I think they can do much better and I expect them to do much better.

“Last year was a difficult year with always start and stop, with a lot of breaks where you couldn’t really find the rhythm. Then once they had the rhythm, in a period of time, I think it was in September when we became really, really strong, Gastón had to leave for the national team. He was, again, gone for about three weeks because he had to come back and (have) 10 days training in quarantine. He again lost a little bit of rhythm.”

With just 15 days before the 2021 season opener, Giménez says he feels a lot calmer than last year. Part of that is he’s finally settled in his new country, and his new wife has moved here to join him. But that calm feeling extends on the field, where he’s more comfortable with his teammates, something he hopes will translate into wins.

“We understand each other better on the field,” Giménez says. “Now we can really keep growing and continue to learn from the things that we did last year, fix the things that maybe failed us a little bit last season. I think it’s going to be a good year, or at the very least we’re going to be a competitive team, we’re going to be out there competing.”

Fire preseason notes: The team plays one final match in Florida, Saturday against Orlando City, before heading back to Chicago for two more preseason matches. The Orlando game will not be streamed, but the two in Bridgeview will—April 7 (noon CT) against Forward Madison, and April 10 (11:30 CT) against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Both will be available at ChicagoFireFC.com, but because of league rules, the streams will only be available for fans watching within 75 miles of Soldier Field.