The Chicago Fire persevered through a number of adversities to stun Charlotte FC 3-2 in a hectic matchup at Bank of America Stadium. The match got off to the worst possible start for the visitors, when Yordy Reyna gave Charlotte the lead after less than 30 seconds. However, the Fire bounced back, as Kacper Przybyłko led a comeback to win 3-2. Federico Navarro was the other Fire player who got on the scoresheet.
Starting Lineup (left to right): Slonina; M. Navarro, Bornstein, Pineda, Sekulić; Giménez (Herbers 68’), F. Navarro; Mueller (Reynolds II 87’), Shaqiri (Durán 90+3’), Torres (Gutiérrez 68’); Przybyłko
Gaga Slonina (7) — In his first game back on loan with the Fire, Gaga put in a good performance even if his clean sheet was ruined within seconds of the opening whistle. Neither goal can easily be pinned on him, and he made 3 saves. The 18-year-old’s best moment of the match came right towards the end when he prevented a corner from sneaking in at the near post.
Miguel Ángel Navarro (8) — The Venezuelan left-back put in his best performance of recent weeks, and responded well after a difficult opening few minutes. He failed to clear the ball in the first minute which led to the opening goal. However, after that, he was one of the Fire’s best players on the night and was excellent both with his offensive and defensive contributions. Navarro won 12/13 ground duels and drew 6 fouls. He also showed lots of fight when the game started to get scrappy in the second half.
Jonathan Bornstein (7) — The decision to start Bornstein was only made this morning, when Rafa Czichos was forced to sit out due to illness (though he did test negative for COVID). Bornstein was bouncing back from his own bout with COVID, and he put in a big shift tonight especially given the circumstances. Bornstein played in a makeshift defensive pairing alongside Mauricio Pineda and proved a reliable option with his passing and defensive stoutness. It was also Jonny’s 200th MLS appearance, so congratulations to him.
Mauricio Pineda (6.5) — It was a game of two halves for Pineda, who returned to the state where he played college soccer for UNC. The ball glanced over his head on Charlotte’s first goal, and he probably should have done better to deal with that situation, and he had a couple of nervous moments throughout the half. Going forward he missed a chance from close range which had an xG of 0.51. The second Charlotte goal appeared to deflect off of Pineda as it went in, and he is lucky that it didn’t go down as an own goal. The second half was much better, though, and he helped lock the Fire down defensively to secure the three points. Pineda will likely be called upon at center back again next week, and he will have another opportunity to make an impact in that position.
Boris Sekulić (7) — Boki played another solid game defensively and also recovered from a mediocre first half to put in a big shift in the second half. He won 4 tackles, more than anyone else, and won 7 ground duels. With Jhon Espinoza out, he is the only right back available for selection so his ability to go 90 minutes every single game could be pushed.
Fede Navarro (8.5) — Navarro was an essential part of the Fire’s crucial win, and not just for his goal. Playing in the midfield double pivot, he did an excellent job protecting the back line, winning 9 ground duels and making 3 tackles. His goal was also totally uncharacteristic, a left footing volley from outside the penalty box. It was one of the Fire’s best goals of the season, and it was the highlight of one of Navarro’s best games of the year.
Gastón Giménez (7) — Giménez returned to the lineup after recovering from injury, but only went 68 minutes before being replaced by Fabian Herbers. The Paraguay international had a solid game in the middle of the park, though he was not at his best. He amounted to 40 touches, and had 25 passes. It is unclear whether he was taken off for tactical or fitness related reasons.
Jairo Torres (6) — The Mexican winger earned his second successive start after a long period of recovery to full fitness, but was underwhelming once again. Unfortunately for Jairo, he struggled to make an impact in the final third and just couldn’t get the job done. While he showed flashes of his potential and what he could bring to this team in the future, it’s difficult to make a case as to why he should start next week over Brian Gutiérrez.
Xherdan Shaqiri (9) — Shaqiri was absolutely magnificent in pretty much all aspects of his game tonight. While he didn’t put the ball in the back of the net himself, he did get two assists, and the second one, on the game-winner, was a thing of beauty. Shaqiri’s playmaking was excellent; aside from the goals, he created an additional three chances, and completed 34 passes from the #10 role. If the DP can keep putting in these high-level performances, the positive results will keep on coming.
Chris Mueller (7) — Mueller did make things happen from a wide position, even if he was lacking that final end product tonight. He combined well with his attacking counterparts and created one big chance. In the 81st minute, he had a really nice move, weaving through several defenders inside the box, though the shot was saved in the end.
Kacper Przybyłko (9) — Despite an extremely rough season, Kacper Przybyłko was pretty much flawless tonight. The Pole ended a two-and-a-half month scoring drought when he scored the Fire’s equalizer in the 21st minute and constantly provided an attacking threat in a way that he hasn’t all season. For his second, he got on the end of an excellent ball from Xherdan Shaqiri and finished the chance well. It came as a surprise to some that he started the game over Jhon Durán given his form, but Przybyłko repaid Ezra Hendrickson’s faith with a complete performance and locked down the starting job for next week. The competition with Durán has pushed Przybyłko and motivated him to get back to his best. Hopefully, this brace is just the beginning.
Brian Gutiérrez (7) — Guti didn’t get super involved in his appearance off the bench, but was definitely a marginal improvement on Torres. He was mostly behind the ball as the Fire closed out the final 22 minutes of the win, but he did well and won his duels.
Fabian Herbers (6) — Herbers was tasked with once again playing as a defensive midfielder, a role which doesn’t suit him well, and he would be better suited with playing higher up the field. The preference to stick with him as the next man up in the double pivot has been pretty clear by Ezra over the last few weeks, though it may be beneficial to see a natural defensive midfielder like homegrowns Javi Casas or Sergio Oregel there at some point this year.
Andre Reynolds II (NR) — Reynolds came on as a right winger in the 87th minute, and made 5 touches.
Jhon Durán (NR) — After being benched, Durán made an extremely brief cameo deep into stoppage time. Nothing happened. Naturally, he now has his work cut out for him to earn that starting spot back. He has the talent to do it, 100%, but now there is a healthy competition between him and Przybyłko which should benefit both players.
Ezra Hendrickson (9) — Two successive road wins; that’s something that Veljko Paunović and Rafa Wicky both failed to accomplish in their entire tenures, and things appear to be all coming together for Ezra’s team. The Fire are above the playoff line for the first time since early spring, and are now on a five-game unbeaten run and playing great soccer. The recent success comes down to, in large part, the team meeting Hendrickson held after the Columbus match, which seems to have been the turning point in the season. He deserves all the credit for turning this team’s season around after many dismissed the season as “dead.” Today, Ezra made the right changes, and the players got the job done.