With a hard-fought 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Chicago Fire claimed their first ever win in Cascadia. The Fire had a bright start and were rewarded with a long-range effort from Xherdan Shaqiri in the 13th minute to open the scoring. Gaga Slonina had some big saves to keep the score at 1-0, but Lucas Cavallini leveled the scoring early in the second half. However, an assist and a goal from Chris Mueller in the final 15 minutes handed Fire the win, with center-back Rafa Czichos ultimately scoring what proved to be the game-winner in the 76th minute. The Fire move to 9th in the East, just 2 points out of a playoff spot.
Starting Lineup (left to right): Slonina; M. Navarro, Czichos, Terán, Sekulić; Pineda (Herbers 84’), F. Navarro; Mueller (Bornstein 90+3’), Shaqiri, Gutiérrez (Torres 60’); Durán (Offor 90+3’)
Gaga Slonina (8) — It was another great night for the Fire’s number one, even if he couldn’t secure his tenth clean sheet of the season. The highlight of the game for Gaga game in the 46th minute, right before the half, where he made an extremely difficult save to deny Lucas Cavallini on a cross inside the penalty box. While he maybe could have done a little bit better with his positioning on the goal, overall, Slonina had a very good game and produced several strong moments throughout the 90 minutes.
Miguel Ángel Navarro (7.5) — Navarro played very well in his return to the lineup after a two-week absence. For the most part, his passing was good and he got very involved in the attack. The combo of Navarro and Mueller down the left side did cause problems for newly-acquired Julian Gressel, and ultimately the German wing-back was substituted at the half. With this performance, Navarro certainly locked down the starting left back job, if there was any doubt.
Rafael Czichos (8.5) — For the second game in a row, it was the captain and center-back, Rafa Czichos, who scored the game-winning goal for the Chicago Fire. He has been an absolute beast for the Men in Red lately in all aspects of his game: defending, passing, and in front of goal. The blip on his game tonight has to be when he lost his mark on Cavallini which resulted in the Whitecaps goal, but apart from that, he was excellent. Czichos completed an astonishing 95 passes in the game, demonstrating his passing ability and importance to the Fire on both sides of the ball. His goal makes him the Fire’s leading scorer in all competitions this year, with 5.
Carlos Terán (8) — When Wyatt Omsberg went down with a potentially season-ending injury in June, many were anxious about the ability of Carlos Terán as a replacement. In recent weeks, though, the Colombian has absolutely stepped up and been one of the Fire’s top performers. He has risen to the occasion, and certainly turned the corner after some rough performances to start the year. Terán saved the game for the Fire, with the most notable moment coming when he cleaned up a mess made in front of goal at the end of the first half. Terán was aerially dominant and put on a show defensively.
Boris Sekulić (7) — While the majority of the Fire team have found a new rhythm, Sekulić has been mostly the same. That’s not to say he has been bad, he has been fine and has done what has been asked of him, but it his performances don’t jump off the page by any means. Boki did complete 52/57 passes and made 6 recoveries, but he hasn’t had enough of an impact in the final third.
Fede Navarro (8.5) — The Argentina midfielder put in another huge shift in the center of the park, dominating on both sides of the ball. He has truly been at his best lately, and has been a big part of the Fire’s success over the last few games. Going forward, Navarro’s best moment came when he secured an assist for the second game in a row. Last year, and coming into this season, he was not expected to provide too much in this capacity, but he has recently stepped up and been a huge threat in the final third. Navarro was also a disruptor defensively, and limited the production of Vancouver in the attacking half.
Mauricio Pineda (7.5) — Pineda was forced to start due to the injury to Gastón Giménez, and he had a very solid game. He mostly sat back a little bit deeper than Navarro in the pivot, but had his moments going forward and nearly scored when he hit the woodwork from the edge of the box in the 38th minute. His passing was also good, completing 38/42 passes.
Brian Gutiérrez (7.5) — The player who has been really coming into his own this season has been Brian Gutiérrez, and he had another good performance in his fourth consecutive start. In 60 minutes of play, Guti was constantly a threat, and was not afraid to take on defenders one-on-one. He was creative in the final third, and while he didn’t end the game with a goal or assist, he came close on numerous occasions and put himself into very good positions. Once that final killer aspect arrives, he will be one of the most dangerous attackers in MLS.
Xherdan Shaqiri (9) — Without any doubt whatsoever, Shaqiri played his best game in a Fire shirt. He was once again deployed as a nominal 10 in the center of the attack, but he was all over the field and contributed defensively in addition to his extensive exploits in front of goal. Of course, there was his beautiful, well-taken goal from distance which opened the scoring and provided an example of vintage Shaqiri. But then, there was his assist on Chris Mueller’s game-clinching third goal, where he opened up the space for him and the Shaumburg native did the rest. Shaqiri has worked his way back from his injury troubles, and now we are witnessing the best version of him since his arrival in MLS.
Chris Mueller (9) — Chris Mueller also provided both a goal and an assist, and both were pure works of art. His assist was an inch-perfect cross for Rafa Czichos, which you knew would be a goal the moment that it left his boot. Then, there was his 90th-minute goal which put the game beyond any doubt, a bending shot flawlessly curled into the upper right corner of the goal following an excellent cut-back to isolate Dajome. Mueller has been the most dangerous one-on-one attacker since arriving and has been a spark for the front line... which is exactly what they needed.
Jhon Durán (7.5) — While he didn’t score or get an assist, Durán was very involved and impactful as the #9 for the Fire. The way he opens space, presses opponents, and creates in the build-up is unlike anything that Kacper Przybyłko has done this season, and even when he’s not 100% Durán has locked down this position. He combined very well with Brian Gutiérrez in a very good attacking sequence in the first half, and though it didn’t end in a goal, it was one moment that will provide optimism for the future of this Fire group.
Jairo Torres (7) — Torres failed to get super involved in his 37 minutes off the bench, but still showed some small flashes of what he can do on the ball. It’s unclear exactly how close to full fitness he is now, but he has looked better and better in each of his cameos over the last few weeks.
Fabian Herbers (6.5) — Herbers filled in as a central midfielder in the defensive double pivot, and only had 8 touches of the ball. The most notable thing about this brief appearance may be that Hendrickson seems to trust Fabi to play out of position there better than the homegrown alternative Javi Casas, who is more of a natural fit for that role and was available off the bench.
Chinonso Offor (NR) — Offor entered briefly in stoppage time as the clock ticked down. He has 3 touches.
Jonathan Bornstein (NR) — Like Offor, Bornstein came on in stoppage time to help run down the clock. He completed 4/4 passes.
Ezra Hendrickson (8.5) — This may have been Ezra’s best game thus far as head coach of the Fire. As has been the case for most of the games this season, the initial game plan seemed to work as the Fire jumped out to an early lead. Then, an equalizer in the second half meant that the Fire had to face adversity, and unlike in previous matches this season, they persevered through it and got a result with two late goals. A lot of credit has to go to Ezra for sparking the Fire’s turnaround... after the heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Columbus, it would have been easy to throw the season out the window and start building towards 2023, but the team meeting he held after that match seems to have started the resurgence that the Fire have embarked upon over the last three games. The biggest tests are to come, though, and there is still a lot of work to do to make the playoffs.