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If the Chicago Fire fail to win Saturday against Toronto FC at BMO Field, it will mark 10 straight league matches without a win. It’ll also mean the Fire limp into the FIFA international break in last place in the league, coming up on three months since the last victory.
Needless to say, three points against the Canadian side would be a welcome boost heading into the break.
Unlike the last couple seasons, where losses were in large part due to momentary undisciplined defending and missed chances, the 2022 Fire are quite a bit different. The team’s defending under Ezra Hendrickson has been mostly solid, but the chance creation has been hit-and-miss. Dropped points seem to come every which way, and this last week was a perfect example. The offense was clicking against the Red Bulls, but defense and goalkeeping were sloppy. Four days later against NYCFC the stout defense was back, but the Fire were dreadful going forward, registering just one shot on goal in the match.
Stats don’t lie
At just 11, the Fire are dead last in MLS in goals scored. FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira has nearly eclipsed that number himself, with nine goals thus far. Chicago’s expected goals stat tells a similar story. Under Raphael Wicky and Veljko Paunovic before him, the Fire were always good in the xG department. Under Hendrickson, not so much. FBRef has the Fire at 14.0 xG this season–fifth-worst in the league.
After beginning the season on a defensive tear, Chicago’s 17 goals allowed are good for dead center in the Eastern Conference–not bad, but not great. In xGA, they’re at 18.1, fifth from the bottom.
Xherdan Shaqiri is ninth in MLS in key passes, at 26. It’s impressive considering he’s only played 911 minutes this season, lower than everyone else in the top 10 except Columbus’ Lucas Zelarayan. He’s got three goals this season (although two were penalties), and four assists (although two are secondary assists, a thing MLS borrowed from hockey). At $8.15 million, Shaqiri is the highest paid player in the history of the league, so it’s more than fair to expect a lot from him.
After he scored what looked like the winner against the against the Red Bulls last week (until Chicago conceded in stoppage time), Shaqiri weighed in on his value to the Fire this season.
“Very early to speak about my performances, my friend, because we have already only 11,” Shaqiri said. “We played 11 games, so it’s just in the beginning of the season. So it’s, I think, early to speak about my performance. But you can see in, not only today, but a few games, my quality and I’m here to help this team go forward. Until now, I’m hungry for more and I know that everybody needs to do better because our expectation is high. Yeah, I’m trying my best.”
In Shaq’s defense, it took an entire season before Chicharito started delivering for the LA Galaxy. He is right–it is still early. But at that kind of money, he must deliver.
To anyone who’s watched the Fire this season, this will be no surprise: Chicago leads MLS in red cards, at four. The team’s also racked up a ton of yellows–35 is good for seventh-highest in the league. Show a little more discipline and restraint and these numbers would be much lower, and the Fire would have a few more points in the table, too.
Some Bright Spots
Two players have played every minute for the Fire this season–Gaga Slonina and Wyatt Omsberg. Gaga’s no surprise, but Omsberg been impressive this season, especially when paired with Rafael Czichos.
Miguel Navarro’s 33 interceptions are good for second-best in the league, behind–you guessed it–San Jose’s Francisco Calvo at 35. Calvo always dominated this stat category when he was here in Chicago, which speaks to his high-risk style of defending. To see that number from Navarro, a fullback rather than a centerback, feels a bit… safer.
Major League Soccer’s stats tables are littered with guys who used to play for the Fire. Djordje Mihailovic’s insane form for Montreal has him third in the league in goals scored, at 7, and near the top of the assist chart, with four. With four goals scored already, Nashville’s CJ Sapong is having another strong season. And, NYCFC’s Sean Johnson leads MLS with seven clean sheets, with his most recent one coming Sunday against the Fire.
There’s Good News? Maybe.
Yes, it’s on the road, but the Fire have a decent chance to take three points this weekend. Toronto has given up 25 goals this season, second worst in the league behind San Jose’s 29 (sorry, Calvo). And at 12, they’ve scored just one more goal than Chicago. Barring something unexpected Lorenzo Insigne won’t be there just yet to help TFC, meaning if Chicago can create chances, stay buttoned-up defensively, and avoid another red card, it’s a great opportunity for a victory, and a nice bump heading into the break.
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