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Fire on Fire: Chicago’s youth shine on international duty

A number of Fire players put in big performances during this international window for their national teams.

Chris Brady (#1) and Brian Gutiérrez (#17) with the U.S. U-20 National Team
Revelations Cup

It was that time of the month again for the Chicago Fire; a week off from any games due to the international break. However, a number of Fire players were kept active as they traveled around the world with their national teams. A considerable number of them put in noteworthy performances, so let’s take a brief look around.

Brian Gutiérrez (United States U-20s)

Gutiérrez was one of the standouts in a stacked U.S. U-20 team and finished as the Revelations Cup’s top goalscorer despite playing in a totally unnatural position. Guti, who is a natural #10 but has often been asked to play on the wing for the Fire, played centrally as a center forward during this camp for Mikey Varas’ team. Nonetheless, he got on the scoresheet twice. First, he scored the U.S.’ opening goal last week in a 3-1 win over Perú, getting on the end of a Mauricio Cuevas cross. Then, last night, he scored the Americans’ second goal in a dominant 2-0 triumph over Paraguay. The two wins helped the U.S. finish second in the friendly competition.

Despite the totally unique challenge of playing in a position that he has literally never played in his professional career, Guti more than staked his claim to be a part of this U-20 team. They easily won the CONCACAF Championship this summer without him, but now it is impossible to imagine a world in which Gutiérrez is not getting considerable minutes. It is not a stretch at all to say that he has earned a place in the starting lineup, so the likes of Paxten Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan will have to fight for their spots.

Chris Brady (United States U-20s)

The reigning CONCACAF U-20 Golden Glove winner did not disappoint this September, as Brady showed why he is worthy of being Gaga Slonina’s successor between the sticks in Chicago. Brady was pre-rotated out of the first game against Perú (Alex Borto started), but Fire II’s goalie was given the nod for the other two games against Mexico and Paraguay. He had some good saves in both matches and kept a clean sheet in the finale against Paraguay.

Like with his Fire teammate Gutiérrez, Brady further solidified his place on the team. A blunder from Borto against Peru did not help the case of Brady’s main competitor, nor did the excellent performances of the Naperville native.

Brady (top left) and Gutiérrez (bottom #17)

Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)

Less than a week after being subbed out of the Fire’s last match before the break due to an injury concern, Shaqiri started two high-intensity international matches for the Swiss national team and performed at a high level. First, the Swiss took on Spain in Pamplona and defeated their hosts 2-1. Shaqiri had a lively performance, with the highlight being when he dribbled through Spain’s defense even if he couldn’t get the finish right. He did miss a pretty straightforward one-on-one against Unai Simón, but replays showed that he would have been offside anyway. In the second match, Switzerland beat Czechia 2-1, a win which secured their League A survival. Shaqiri had the assist on Remo Freuler’s goal which opened the scoring.

Shaqiri looked like a very similar player to the one that has shown up in Chicago. However, in these Switzerland games, he provided more of those individual moments of sheer brilliance that we have seen so rarely in MLS this season. Shaqiri will be a crucial piece for Switzerland at the World Cup; it remains to be seen how he will spend the rest of his time between now and then.


Jhon Durán (Colombia)

The Fire’s 18-year-old Colombian breakout star earned his first call-up to the senior team this month and managed to make his international debut against Guatemala in a 4-1 win. Durán replaced legendary Colombian striker Radamel Falcao at halftime with the score 1-0 to Colombia. The Fire’s center forward had a good 45 minutes but couldn’t get on the scoresheet.

Durán played a few moments towards the end on Tuesday against Mexico, in a match in which Colombia battled from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

Federación Colombiana de Fútbol

Sergio Oregel Jr. (United States U-19s)

Oregel has been consistently overlooked by the first-team staff this season and is still yet to debut in MLS. However, for Marko Mitrović’s U-19s, Sergio is a key piece and has been one of the most influential players on a very successful team. The U-19s won the Slovenia Nations Cup, winning all three games along the way (5-0 vs Malta, 4-3 vs Croatia, 2-1 vs Scotland). Sergio recorded a classy assist for Reed Baker-Whiting against Malta before the Sounders full-back returned the favor on Tuesday by providing an assist for Oregel. On his goal against Scotland, Oregel didn’t quite get the contact that was initially expected, but it found the net nonetheless.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Fire team right now due to injuries, and with the season already effectively over, there is no reason to believe that Ezra Hendrickson won’t hand Oregel his MLS debut before the end of the year. He has been phenomenal for Fire II playing as a #6, and was truly a standout in a strong U-19 team this week. Surely now he will get an opportunity with the Fire first team before the end of 2022.

Sergio Oregel (left) and Esmir Bajraktarević