Things finally started to look put together in June. Coming back from the international break, the Fire were starting to find themselves and play some really good football. They won two of their first three games back- both one-nil wins against bottom team DC United and surprisingly, against top-of-the-table Philidelphia Union.
A 2-0 loss to the Dynamo in Houston the wins, but that one wasn’t that big an issue. Houston is a tough place to play in the middle of summer as it is, and when you’re without your big pieces, it gets almost impossible.
The Fire also wasn't quite ready to take that next step for a few more weeks. While getting backup center back Carlos Teran up to speed after a season-ending injury to Wyatt Omsberg in their win against DC, they lost to the San Jose Earthquakes and blew a 2 goal lead to the Columbus Crew. Both games should have been winnable and especially against the Crew, they were the better team for the majority of the game.
For most people, this is where the season was lost. This wasn’t the first time this had happened this year, as they folded the same way to TFC in the first half of the season, but this seemed worse. They had just started to trend upward, and the one step forward two steps back nature of the last two games were backbreaking to the morale of the fanbase. But the Fire just got up, brushed themselves off, and had one hell of a July.
After the game against Columbus, the Fire went wild on the mid and lower table. They won 4 of their next 5 games with their only draw being a scoreless draw against Atlanta United where neither team seemed interested in playing. A big reason for this was the coming out party for one of their youngest players, and as it would turn out, one of their best.
The Fire signed Duran from Colombia at the age of 17, beating out the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid to the punch. Because of his minor status, he was not allowed to join the club until after he turned 18, and wouldn’t be allowed to play until this season. He had a good preseason but was still lacking maturity at times through the first half, where he had some minutes as a second-half substitute. However, in the second half of the season that changed. He had 3 multi-goal games in the second half of the season, and when he wasn’t scoring, he was assisting or drawing multiple defenders to create space for his teammates. If it wasn’t for the way Rafa Czichos changed the defense, Duran would be my player of the season.
The most impressive win of their run was their 1-0 win over Seattle. They scored early with Captain Czichos in the 23rd, and they didn’t panic or collapse. Earlier in the year, they would have. We just talked about it. But in this game, they held their one-goal lead and held it. The defense didn’t make many mistakes and when they did, Gaga Slonina was there to clean them up like he had all season. And for him, he was about to change his career.
Big European clubs had been sniffing around Gaga since he was named the starter for the Fire at the end of the 2021 season, and he finally decided where he was going to take. Gaga joined Chelsea Football Club at the end of July and was loaned back to the Fire until the end of the season; and what a season it was. He was 3rd in clean sheets in the league and despite a short dip in form, he proved he was every bit the phenom that he was promoted to be.
That also wasn’t the only thing going on off the field. The Fire’s training facility was approved by the city council, but not without some controversy. The proposed site was the location of a Chicago Housing Authority property that was earmarked for affordable housing. However, popular support from neighborhood residents meant that some votes changed from nay to ye and the motion went through. The last hurdle will be the approval of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
However, on the field, the Fire went from ye to nay. At the end of July, the Fire were staunchly positioned inside the playoff picture, but with the east so tight, it would only take one slip up to tumble back down the table. The Fire slipped up 6 times. After their win against Charlotte, the Fire went winless in their next five games, managing only 2 points for the rest of August and into September and scoring only once. The injuries and fatigue was starting to set in, and the Fire didn’t have the depth to overcome everything.
The last stretch of the season was a little better, record-wise. The final 5 games of the season saw the Fire go 2-1-2 with wins against Cincinnati and Inter Miami, two playoff teams. It was as if they wanted to prove that they had better talent and could make the playoffs if things had gone better in June and August. But they didn’t. The Fire would finish 12th in the east and in the same spot as where they started.
The 2022 season was frustrating. For all the good steps the Fire took this year— the defense maturing, the emergence of a bunch of young talent led by Jhon Duran and Brian Gutierrez— there were a bunch of bad things that held the team back. Georg Heitz’s failure for a third straight season to put together a deep enough roster to do some damage in MLS. But enough good has gone on that I think this season wasn’t a total loss. The big question now is, Can the Fire build on this in 2023?