The opening day draw against Miami was an interesting game that showed just how far the Chicago Fire have come since the final whistle of the 2021 season. It also showed just how far they have to go to become real contenders. This is what we learned from the Fire’s 0-0 draw.
Shaqiri is The Game Changer
Xherdan Shaqiri is the guy the club has been missing for the last decade. As good as players like David Accam and Bastian Schweinsteiger were, they were never able to control the game as well and as effortlessly as he did. The team never went a possession without his feet touching the ball, and his ability to find the key pass with limited time and space was outstanding.
His performance wasn’t all good. His pass completion percentage was hovering around 70% all game, and he looked a bit shaky on possession at times. However, it was clear to everyone involved that he has the ability to shape the game state to fit his, and the Fire’s idea of winning football. He lead the team in xAssists (like xGoals but for setting up) and was consistently making good decisions on the ball, even if the outcomes weren’t favorable.
It’s clear that Shaq can and will, with time, be the driving force behind the Fire being better than they have been. If the Fire doesn’t perform as they should, it won’t be because of Xherdan’s shortcomings.
Rafael Czichos is Good
The Fire walked away with a clean sheet despite the game devolving into a chaos state early into the second half and never really leaving it. In seasons of the recent past, the Fire would have lost the plot, and the game by multiple goals. But not this year. In large part, the Fire’s new captain is the cause for this.
Rafael Czichos is a rock. He’s calm under pressure and is always in the right spots to put out the fires that were started due to carelessness and the pressure Miami was putting on Fire attackers, especially on the wings. There were multiple times he was the last man back blocking a shot or running down an attacker before a ball could be played in.
It’s a world of difference from seasons past where at the first sign of difficulty, the defense would implode upon itself and let in multiple goals. This team stayed with it and kept going, in large part thanks to their new captain. This could turn out to be a better signing then we first thought, and we knew it was a good one when it happened.
The Fire Still Need Verticality
One of the things we thought was going to be a problem, at least, for a while, was that the Fire didn’t really have any speed on the wings to stretch opposing defenses, creating gaps between the midfield and defense to exploit. And for the most part, we were right. The Fire don’t really have a direct game like that. Miami were able to sit back with the ball in front of them and not have to worry much about balls in over the top, which let DeAndre Yedlin and Noah Allen cheat up the field and be dangerous on offense. This changed a bit in the last quarter of the game when legs got tired and Jhon Durán and Brian Gutierrez came on, but by that point the game was too unstructured for that to matter all that much.
There is no easy solution for this. There's basically one open senior TAM roster spot left and they’ve said that they’re saving that for summer reinforcements. Jairo Torres is a skilled winger, but he’s not exactly a vertical threat either. The answer is going to have to be more creative in how they create space. They’re going to have to make the opposing players miss tackles and use quick passing and movement to eliminate defenders from the play. Their passing in tight spaces is going to need to get better and so is their ability to pick their head up and move the ball quickly and accurately. Maybe they also play Durán and Gutierrez at the start of the game as well. But you can’t really fault the way Herbers and especially Ivanov played either. Fixing this is going to be Ezra Hendrickson’s first real test.