The Chicago Fire claimed a hard-earned 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders thanks to a first half goal from captain Rafa Czichos. After a bright start, Czichos capitalized on a cross from Federico Navarro to give the Fire the lead, and a strong defensive performance for the remaining 67 minutes closed out the win. Gaga Slonina also stole headlines, making several big stops en route to victory.
Starting Lineup (left to right): Slonina; Bornstein, Czichos, Terán, Sekulić; Giménez (Pineda 37’), F. Navarro; Gutiérrez (Torres 60’), Shaqiri, Mueller (Herbers 60’); Pryzbyłko (Offor 83’)
Gaga Slonina (8.5) — Slonina was undoubtedly one of the Fire’s top performers on the night, saving them on numerous occasions. On two separate occasions, including one in the 88th minute of the match, Gaga came up big in one-on-one positions against USMNT winger and MLS All-Star Jordan Morris. His distribution out of the back certainly leaves something to be desired, but he has barely been beaten lately with his shot-stopping and has been dominant in the air. As the transfer speculation continues to swirl, the 18-year-old goalie, who leads MLS in shutouts, has been putting on a show lately.
Jonathan Bornstein (7.5) — Though a match-up against the speed and energy of Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan probably wasn’t ideal for Bornstein, he still did his part and had a strong performance defensively. Bornstein went 90 minutes for the second time in 4 days, which at 37 years old, is nothing short of impressive. Although he was beaten for pace a couple of times on the counter, Bornstein put in a good shift and won 4/5 ground duels.
Rafael Czichos (9) — With his one-on-one defending and distribution, Rafa Czichos already had a very solid performance. Of course, he also scored the game-winning goal, which provided the cherry on top of what was already his best game in a Fire shirt. Czichos completed 90% of his passes, while also making 5 clearances and 2 interceptions. Rightfully so, he was named man of the match by the Fire. In scoring his goal, he displayed tremendous awareness to get into the position to score and exhibited his aerial prowess in nodding the ball past Sounders goalie Stefan Cleveland.
Carlos Terán (7.5) — Terán stepped up again and put in a solid shift next to Czichos in the back line. While he wasn’t as influential going forward, he still completed most of his passes (87%) and wasn’t ever beat on the dribble. Terán needs to find the consistency to put in strong performances like these every week, and that may help him lock down the starting job without any doubt.
Boris Sekulić (7) — The Fire midfield did a very good job of limiting the number of chances the Sounders could create, and the few times they could breach the attacking half, play was focused down their right wing. For this reason, Boki naturally didn’t have as much to do as he has in games past, and he did was he was asked to do from a defensive standpoint. He couldn’t provide much going forward, though, which is the most frustrating aspect of his game; he certainly did enough to keep his job over Jhon Espinoza, though.
Fede Navarro (8.5) — Navarro once again proved that he is an indisposable part of the Chicago Fire, and was one of the best players on the night. He was a solid defensive anchor to the midfield, winning 3 tackles and 6 ground duels. When Gastón Giménez exited due to injury at the end of the first half, Navarro assumed a more influential two-way role in the midfield and excelled. He completed 42/46 passes over the course of the 90 minutes, and the cream of the crop was the game-winning assist for Rafa Czichos with an inch-perfect cross from the edge of the box.
Gastón Giménez (7.5) — Gastón only got to play 37 minutes as he had to leave the game early due to injury, but while he was still on the field he was one of the most influential players in the middle of the park. Giménez provided the secondary assist on the goal, and was a solid progressive passer, driving the ball forward on numerous occasions. The seriousness of the injury is yet to be determined, and he will be evaluated before his status for next Saturday is determined.
Brian Gutiérrez (7) — Starting in a wide role but frequently drifting inside, Gutiérrez had a decent game even if it lacked end product. Guti got into good positions on numerous occasions but was unable to finish, and his decision-making in front of goal is also still not the best. With that being said, he continued to show flashes of his potential, and there is plenty of work to do.
Xherdan Shaqiri (7.5) — As he continues his recovery from injury, Shaqiri is slowly getting back to his best. He went the full 90 minutes for the first time since June 29th and was impactful in the attack as he completed 43 passes. It was still not his best game, though, and one would hope that next week when he is closer to 100%, we will see the best version of Shaqiri.
Chris Mueller (6.5) — Chris Mueller had a quiet day at the office, and he was unable to make a substantial impact on the game before he was substituted in the 60th minute. Mueller has been at his best when he’s been drifting inside from the left wing, but he was asked to play mostly on the right today. He couldn’t muster any dribbles but will be hoping that he can still play a big role next week.
Kacper Przybyłko (6) — The striker dropped yet another frustrating, disappointing performance where he was totally ineffective for the entire match. On numerous occasions, it seemed that he was attacking in slow motion, and he didn’t quite strike fear into the eyes of the defenders in the way that Jhon Durán did on Wednesday against Toronto. He did have one of the better chances of the first half for the Fire, but it was shot straight at Cleveland. Jhon Durán, who says he will be ready for the Vancouver match next week, has earned the starting job for the foreseeable future.
Mauricio Pineda (7) — Though he didn’t start, Pineda played a solid 53 minutes in defensive midfield as a replacement for Gastón Giménez. While Pineda can also play center-back, Ezra Hendrickson clearly sees his best position as being in the midfield double-pivot; he adopted a defensive role in the pairing today, which gave Fede Navarro more freedom and authority to go forward and contribute to the attack.
Fabian Herbers (6.5) — Coming off the bench, Fabi added a defensive presence higher up the field and added discipline to the Fire’s second half. He did what he was asked to do, but didn’t stand out in his half hour.
Jairo Torres (6.5) — Torres also didn’t start as he returns to fitness and form following a hip injury. He was a decent presence in the attack and put in a good shift, even if his only shot was saved. He is still looking for his first Fire goal.
Chinonso Offor (NR) — Offor played the final minutes, replacing Przybyłko. It was only his second appearance since May 14th.
Ezra Hendrickson (7.5) — Certainly, a lot of credit has to go to the coach following a big upset win like this. He set up a game-plan to defeat the reigning Concacaf Champions League winners, and at the end of the day, it worked. There is one problem that the Fire have had, though, and this has been present for several weeks; the Fire often start strong for the first 30 minutes but then find themselves playing on the back foot for the rest of the match. All five of the Fire’s goals in the three-game week were scored in the first half. In part, this speaks to Ezra Hendrickson’s lack of game-changing substitutions and adjustments in-game. Of course, that is an aspect of his coaching game that will surely improve with time.