The Fire and FC Dallas played to a vicious scoreless draw, and the Fire remain undefeated for another week. From disaster striking to strong mental performance, this is what we learned.
They Survived The Worst-Case Scenario
When the lineup dropped about an hour before kickoff, a lot of us were shocked to see that the team’s captain, Rafael Czichos, was not only not in the starting XI, but not in the lineup altogether. He had a bit of a knock coming off of the SKC match, but that was two weeks ago and in his midweek press conference, Ezra Hendrickson said he would be fit. What was going on?
It turned out that he was placed in the health and safety protocol, forcing a last-minute switch in the lineup. Mauricio Pineda was forced back into center back duty, both as a way to keep the Fire’s homegrown central rock on the field and because Carlos Terán still isn’t fully fit after an injury in the preseason. This meant that Federico Navarro would slide into the midfield in Pineda’s stead. On top of all of that, Xherdan Shaqiri had to come sub 20 minutes because of a problem in his hamstring. This was going to be a tough game with everybody relatively healthy, but with the two players arguably most responsible for the team’s early turnaround out, I would forgive you for feeling the Fire was just in the teensiest bit of trouble.
As it turned out, they were fine. Defensively, Mauricio Pineda slotted right in and played well, making some game-saving tackles in 1v1s as well as being good with the ball at his feet and understanding what he needed to do to get the job done. His numbers bare that out. He had an 83% passing percentage and won three-quarters of his duels. Pineda looked just as at home in the backline as he does in midfield. That kind of flexibility is going to be important down the road, especially if injuries continue.
Meanwhile, Brian Gutierrez is casually dropping dimes after coming in for Shaqiri.
Phenomenal pass by 18-year-old Chicago Fire homegrown midfielder & US youth int'l Brian Gutierrez. pic.twitter.com/3SmaWIUQt5— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) April 2, 2022
Despite the lack of reception from Przybylko, which is a different matter, Gutierrez’s passing after he came on was excellent, and as Jairo Torres’ arrival looms, Gutierrez is making the case for why he should be on the field either as the first name of of the bench. Or as the player playing opposite the Mexican wunderkind.
In some ways, the Fire faced their toughest test over the weekend. Down their two most important offseason acquisitions, they could have folded in on themselves and collapsed. In the second half when hat trick hero Jesus Ferriera came on, It could have been game over on the lakefront. Ferriera didn’t even get a clear shot on target. This team ground out a result that they would have not gotten a mere 6 months ago. Yes, they need to work on the attack, and we can talk about their inconsistent play up front later. But for now, let us marvel at their transformation from one of the leakiest teams in the league to one of the stingiest.