It’s been a busy week for the Chicago Fire, and that will conclude tomorrow with a matchup against Eastern Conference playoff rivals Charlotte FC at 6 PM CT. Gaga Slonina secured a big-money move to English giant Chelsea, Chinonso Offor was shipped to Montréal for allocation money, and some injuries have forced Ezra Hendrickson into some changes to the lineup. We have all the latest updates for you in today’s notebook.
Gaga Slonina speaks to the media
A few days after the permanent transfer of Slonina to Chelsea was announced, the 18-year-old goalie had the opportunity to speak with the media on a conference call this Friday. Gaga says that it was a “no-brainer” to join Chelsea when the opportunity presented itself.
“I think Chelsea is one of the biggest clubs in the world and they play in the Premier League,” Gaga told reporters today.” “It was a no-brainer for me to want to join that team, such a massive club with so much history, and the things they have done in the past years has truly been amazing. So it’s an incredible honor to be joining the club.”
Gaga won’t be the only American at Chelsea. Christian Pulisic, who Gaga was teammates with for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in January, wears the #10 for Chelsea and is one of their most recognizable players.
“When I landed in London, I actually spoke with Christian and just told him that I would be joining the club, hopefully after the medical had passed. He told me that he’s super happy I’m going to be joining the club.”
The 18-year-old also shared that he is excited to work with FIFA World Goalkeeper of the Year, Édouard Mendy, who is Chelsea’s starting goalie.
“It’s going to be amazing working with every single one of those guys, but working with Édouard Mendy, it’s going to be unreal just to see how he goes about in training and how he handles the ball and what he’s doing before the play gets to him. It’s just going to be analyzing him before he works, it’s going to be incredible. I’m super excited.”
Now, the focus turns to the rest of the MLS season. Starting with the match against Charlotte tomorrow, the Fire have 11 matches left as they make a push for the playoffs.
“I’m back on loan with the Chicago Fire and so my focus is bringing us to the playoffs and lifting that MLS Cup at the end of the year. Hopefully, I’m going to be joining them January 1st, so it’s going to be a journey from here until then. I think the most important is just finishing the year with the Chicago Fire strong and hopefully bringing the cup back to the beautiful city.”
Mauricio Pineda to start at center-back
In Wednesday’s press conference, Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson confirmed that Mauricio Pineda will start at center back. The 24-year-old has mostly been an option in midfield this season, but in the past, he has also spent a lot of time playing at center back.
“Center back is something that I’ve played a lot in the last two seasons,” says Pineda. “I think the transition from center-mid to center-back is usually easier than the other way around. There’s still some stuff to get used to, but I feel comfortable with the position, so hopefully, it goes well.
Pineda says that over the past few weeks, there has been much more of a positive vibe around training.
“It’s been more positive than in past weeks,” he says. “Winning gives a team a lot of confidence, so its been good, its been a positive environment. We’re still growing as a team, always improving.”
In related news, Hendrickson says that Gastón Giménez is back to 100% fitness. He is expected to start in the midfield.
Chinonso Offor traded
This morning, the Fire officially announced the trade of Chinonso Offor to CF Montréal. The Fire received $325,000 in General Allocation Money, but that number could rise to as high as $600,000 if performance-based incentives are met.
“Chino’s a player who hasn’t played for us much this year,” Ezra Hendrickson told us today. “Montréal was very interested. They contacted us a couple of weeks back, but we didn’t feel like the time was right. They came back again earlier this week, and we felt like it was a good move for us as a team, and for the player.”
State of the center-back position
In the last six weeks, both Wyatt Omsberg and Carlos Terán have gone down with injuries. Omsberg has missed close to two months already, having had surgery in June. Terán came off with a hamstring injury last week, and he is beginning to work his way back to fitness. Despite the lack of depth in that position, the Fire didn’t push any transfer deals over the line before last night’s deadline.
“We expect Carlos to be back in two, maybe three weeks,” says Hendrickson. “You always want to try to get your team better, and make moves that will improve your team, but we didn’t find the right opportunity to do that. We always want to do what’s best for the organization, and we just didn’t find the right player to come in.”
As previously mentioned, Mauricio Pineda is in line to start alongside Rafa Czichos tomorrow.
Looking forward to Charlotte…
In Charlotte, the Fire will face a tough opponent who have been punching above their weight in their inaugural MLS season. They are a dangerous team who just defeated Chelsea in a friendly a couple of weeks ago, and they now sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.
“They’re coming off of a very big win against D.C., I’m sure they will have a lot of fans there,” says Hendrickson. “They want to secure their playoff standing and get three points. But so are we, and we don’t really differ whether its at home or away as far as the way we play. We always want to be on the front foot, we want to push forward, so we’re going to be going for three points and I expect a very good game.”