Chicago Fire star Xherdan Shaqiri will look to help his country, Switzerland, reach the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals with a win over Portugal (Tuesday, 1 p.m. CT). Despite missing a match because of injury, he’s once again delivered for his country, joining Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as just the third man to score in each of the last three World Cups. Not bad company.
But, if you’re a Fire fan, should you be cheering for Shaq right now? It’s a more complex question than it seems.
At $8.15 million per season, Shaqiri is–by far–the highest paid player in Fire history. But in his first season with the club, he didn’t exactly deliver. He scored just three non-penalty goals all season, and pulled himself out of matches at key moments–including the 88th minute of a crucial, late season match against Charlotte FC. The Fire went on to lose that one 3-2 after Shaqiri sat down, and the Fire missed the playoffs.
A running narrative this season, fueled by many–including me, to be fair–was that Shaqiri was concerned about injury, and was protecting his health for what would be the final World Cup of his career.
It was a season that began with high expectations, and ended in frustration, yet again. So, it’s hard to argue against any Fire fan who feels a tinge of anger watching Shaq score for his country.
That said, I think Fire fans should back Shaq in Qatar. Hear me out:
First, frustrations aside, he is our guy right now. I thought this tweet from @JTomszak summed it up best:
Plus, it’s pretty clear that his quad injury is serious. Shaqiri didn’t appear in the 1-0 group stage loss to Brazil because of the ailment. I have to eat crow on this one, because I fully expected Shaq to get to Qatar and play every minute of every match. If he’s missing a World Cup match, you know that quad injury is more than just an excuse to get out of Fire matches when he doesn’t feel like playing. It’s legit.
Still, I think this is a case of two-things-can-be-true-at-once. Fire fans should back Shaqiri at the World Cup, and it may well be true he battled injuries all season. But, it’s also more than fair to expect the highest paid player in club history to deliver far more than he did. Actually, I would hope Shaqiri should feel the same way. His talent was on display in flashes throughout 2022, but it will need to be a lot more consistent in 2023 for Shaqiri to actually earn those giant paychecks, and for the Fire to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
My feeling on Shaqiri is a lot like my feeling on Fire sporting director Georg Heitz: I’ve been critical of both–fairly, I believe. I feel both haven’t delivered like they should, and the MLS Eastern Conference standings should remove any doubt about that. But, in both cases, it’s not personal. For the sake of the club, I hope both Shaqiri and Heitz dominate this coming season.
And for that reason, I’ll be backing Shaq against Portugal on Tuesday. Hopp Schwiiz!
The Fire announced today that club legend Zach Thornton has joined Ezra Hendrickson’s coaching staff as goalkeeper coach. He replaces Adin Brown, who recently left to join the San Jose Earthquakes.
Thornton is the Fire’s career leader in appearances as a goalkeeper (215), starts as a goalkeeper (212), and wins (109). He’ll be tasked with working with young star Chris Brady and veteran Spencer Richey, who will both be vying to take over for Gaga Slonina after his recent move to Chelsea in the Premier League.