The Chicago Fire finally fell back down to earth in St. Paul, losing 3-0 to Minnesota United. It was by far the worst performance of the season, and you know what they say, you learn more from a loss than a win. Here’s What We Learned.
The Shaqiri Problem
It took eight games, but the Fire finally ran into the biggest issue with having a big-name designated player on the roster. When he has a bad game, the whole team falls apart. Xherdan Shaqiri played his worst game in his first two months with the Fire over the weekend, and the club struggled. His total pass completion percentage was right around sixty- six percent and the passes that he did complete weren’t particularly key to anything. His best moments came not from the middle, but when he switched out wide with Brian Gutierrez. And that was only for a few minutes at the end of the second half.
This is the curse of the big-time designated player, and something the Fire haven’t really had to deal with in recent years. Their other designated player signings were never either the profile of Shaqiri, such as Nemanja Nikolic. Or if they were, they were not in the primary playmaking role, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger. If the Fire are going to improve the offense either other players are going to have to step up, or they’re going to have to start being better at facilitating Shaq. Otherwise, they’re going to start losing more games. The Defense isn’t going to be able to bail them out forever.
Winger Winger On The Wall
The Fire don’t have any wingers... well, that’s not exactly true. They have Xherdan Shaqiri but it’s been determined that he’s too high profile to play anywhere other than in the middle. So in practice, the Fire don’t have any wingers. Going into training camp, anyone who took a look at the roster would realize this was a possibility. Aside from Stanislav Ivanov, who would have had to improve exponentially (he has improved, just not at a fast enough rate), and the emergence of someone like Chinonso Offor, the Fire were going to be severely hampered out wide. Even the edition of Mexican youth international Jairo Torres doesn’t feel like it’s going to make up the entire difference at this point. There’s no question he’ll help things improve, but one has to wonder how much he will help, and if it will be enough to even the gap.
Which leaves us with the last two roster spots yet to be fulfilled. The Fire have one TAM signing and one under-22 Initiative signing left to finish out the roster. One or both have to be spent on the wing problem. I’d prefer if it was the TAM signing, and one within the league, preferably one who you know can do the job. Maybe see if the Revs want to blow it up? I’ll take Sebastian Lletget or Emmanuel Boeteng that’s for sure. Maybe use them both to fill the depth at a position that doesn’t even have any surface-level talent on the roster. Regardless, playing strikers/wingbacks/CAM’s isn’t working and was never going to work.
Georg Heitz has not put together a complete squad since he’s been in charge, and patience with the fanbase is running thin. If you ask me, he has one more transfer window in the summer to help this team make the playoffs, or there could be, and probably should be changes.
Gaga’s Not A Finished Product
The problem with having a young prodigy is that he’s still young. Gabriel Slonina was, is, and will still be on the fast track to superstardom. It’s obvious he has all the raw materials to be one of the best goalkeepers the United States, a long-time producer of excellent goalkeeping talent, has produced.
However, we need to step back and recognize our excitement for what it is. One of our own may not only make it, but make it big on the international stage at an age when we see players from other countries and think “Why can’t they play for us? One does play for us, but he’s not ready yet. As amazing as his positioning and shot-blocking are, his distribution and his ability to judge balls in the air aren’t as advanced in development yet.
We saw a bit of this against Orlando City, as that cost the Fire a goal and the game as he failed to get on to a cross, and we saw more of it against Minnesota as several times, he misjudged crosses and punched away balls in the box that he could have easily held on to. There were also some communication gaffes as well, where defenders cleared away balls before he could collect him.
We need to remember that he’s a young keeper and that he’s going to make mistakes. It’s hard sometimes, with how good he’s been on the season, but we always knew in the back of our mind that the defensive performance was unsustainable. I’m not at all worried about Gaga, and you shouldn’t be, either.