MIR is previewing the team’s roster ahead of the Fire’s 2023 opener at Soldier Field on Saturday, March 4 by position – first up are goalkeepers and defenders. We’ll introduce you to each player, including how they joined the Fire, review their 2022 season, and will go over expectations and hopes for the upcoming season.
Our own Colin Chough will kick things off by breaking down the demands and roles of each position in Fire Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson’s system.
With Hendrickson proving that he wants his team to play a possession-based game, it is essential for Chris Brady to fill the shoes left by Gaga Slonina in terms of ball-playing ability. With an improved ability with his feet, Slonina was crucial to the Fire when it came to building out of their own defensive third. Hopefully, Hendrickson gives Brady a stretch of games with the same defensive unit so that he can find some confidence and comfort in playing out from the back with trusted and familiar personnel. The only change to the back line will come from the new signing from Montpelier, Arnaud Souquet, who should slide in nicely at right back. With just this one upgrade at fullback and the same personnel (M. Navarro, Czichos, Omsberg/Terán) to make up the rest of the back four, I do not envision any massive changes in terms of the Fire’s defensive shape. Like last season, the team will most likely defend in a mid-block that most sides with a back four and two pivots utilize. This season, the Fire, especially young defensive players such as Chris Brady, will be turning to club captain, Rafa Czichos, to lead from the back. He will most certainly be crucial to keeping opponents off of the scoresheet, but will also be quintessential in establishing this Fire team as a ball-playing team out from the back.
At the end of the 2021 season, teenage homegrown goalkeeper Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina was given a number of games to prepare for the 2022 season where he was widely figured to be a starter. His play earned him notice from clubs in Europe, and a blockbuster deal for the teenager’s services sent him to Chelsea in the offseason. His likely replacement at starter – fellow teenage homegrown Chris Brady, who will celebrate his 19th birthday the day before the team’s home opener – was given less time to prepare with the big club but did play throughout the season with Fire II in MLS Next Pro. The team is high on his ability, but should the need arise, veteran GK Spencer Richey is back, joined by offseason signing (and Chicago-area native) Jeffrey Gal. By all indications, though, the job is Brady’s to lose.
Height: 6’3” DOB: 3-3-2004 (18) Foot: Right
GP: 1 Starts: 1 Mins: 90
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 0 RC: 0
Although he has not played much for the Fire yet, there is a lot of hype behind Chris Brady for the upcoming season. With former teammate Gaga Slonina headed to Chelsea in the offseason, Brady is one of the next Fire academy products tipped for greatness. Brady would complete a loan stint in 2020 with USL League One side Forward Madison, where he would earn 3 clean sheets in 8 games, also ending the season as the USL League One Young Player of the Year. Brady was recently the starter for the U-20 US Men’s National team at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, where he would win the title and the Golden Glove award.
History with the Fire: Brady, a native of Naperville, has played for the Fire since joining the Academy in 2017.
2022 season in review: In 2022, Chris Brady primarily featured for the Fire’s MLS Next Pro team Fire II, where he would start 12 games, keeping 5 clean sheets and making 45 saves. Brady would appear in only 1 match for the Fire, with that being the final game of the 2022 season, which was a 0-0 draw against the New England Revolution.
Key Questions for 2023: Will Brady be able to take the starting spot for himself on opening day? Being thrown straight into a starting spot can be a lot to ask of a teenager, but it seems that Brady has the mentality, work ethic, and talent to be the next big thing. Can we see Brady replicate his knack for a clean sheet in MLS? Will Brady be our next big export, or even stay and become a Ring of Fire member?
Height: 6’2” DOB: 4-6-1993 (29) Foot: Right
2022 Stats (2022-2023 Season with Degerfors IF – Allsvenskan):
GP: 10 Starts: 9 Mins: 893
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 0 RC: 0
Jeffrey Gal, who came up through the prestigious Chicago suburban club Sockers FC, had spent the past six years playing through various teams throughout the different levels of the Swedish soccer pyramid. His most recent team, Degerfors IF, was promoted to the Allsvenskan at the end of the 2019/2020 season, the highest tier of Swedish soccer.
History with the Fire: Originally from Bartlett, Illinois, It was announced by Fire on January 11th, 2023, that Gal would be joining the club on a free transfer. Gal played for both Creighton University and the University of Virginia collegiately.
2022 season in review: Gal started 9 out of his 10 games played for Degerfors in the 2022 Allsvenskan season. In Sweden, the Allsvenskan runs from late March or Early April, up until November. In both 2020 and 2021, Degerfors finished in 13th place which guaranteed the team was neither relegated nor had to participate in a relegation playoff. In the 12 games where he appeared for Degerfors in 2022, the team would only lose 2 of those games, also posting 3 clean sheets.
Key Questions for 2023: With Chris Brady still only being 18 years old, it is unsure if he’ll be able to perform up to the sky-high standards set by former teammate Gaga Slonina. If Brady struggles, will Gal take the starting spot for himself? Having a more experienced goalkeeper at his disposal now, will Ezra Hendrickson rely on Gal to fill in a more tactical role and play with his feet?
Height: 6’1” DOB: 5-30-1992 (30) Foot: Right
GP: 1 Starts: 1 Mins: 90
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 0 RC: 0
Since 2016, Spencer Richey has made 62 appearances for various clubs across MLS, with 19 of those coming for FC Cincinnati in 2019. Richey has primarily been a backup goalie throughout his career, but he consistently provides experience and much-needed leadership in a league where there is a constant focus on the youth. Before going professional, Richey would play collegiately for the University of Washington.
History with the Fire: Richey was acquired by the Fire via free agency in December 2021. Richey had played for the Seattle Sounders previously but was only on a one-year contract.
2022 season in review: His single appearance would come in an infamous defeat to Union Omaha in the U.S. Open Cup. Despite this, Richey had played fairly well and started the game wearing the captain’s armband.
Key Questions for 2023: Will Spencer Richey be able to force his way into the battle for the starting spot? If not in MLS, can Richey earn minutes in the Leagues Cup or U.S. Open Cup?
The core of Chicago’s defense from last season is returning for the 2023 campaign – and that’s welcome as it was an area of strength on last year’s roster. Led by team captain Rafael Czichos and joined by newcomer Arnaud Souquet from Ligue 1 in France, the team’s defenders will look to maintain the consistency and organization they displayed last year – that is, when they were healthy. Czichos missed games due to injury and his partner at CB Wyatt Omsberg had a season-injuring foot injury. If they can pick up where they left off, and the team’s younger defenders continue their growth and if Souquet’s integration goes smoothly, Fire fans can look forward to a defensively-sound squad this season.
Height: 6’2” DOB: 10-8-99 (23) Foot: Right
GP: 4 Starts: 2 Mins: 182
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 0 RC: 0
The Fire’s first-round pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, Kendall Burks, featured in four games last season for the Fire, including two starts. The Tacoma, Wash native spent most of his debut professional season with the Fire II in MLS Next Pro. Before joining the Fire, he’d previously gotten a look from Nottingham Forest, then in the Championship, and had been considered a possible high-risk, high-reward draft pick.
History with the Fire: Acquired in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft with the team’s 1st-round pick.
2022 season in review: Burks started off with the Fire II in MLS Next Pro, where he played in 12 games and scored both a goal and an assist in 750 minutes with the club. He made his debut with the big club in the team’s first and only US Open Cup match last season, going a full 120 minutes before seeing the team lose in PKs. He started two games late in the season, including the finale against New England, though the team’s roster was injury-depleted at that point.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Burks make a case to stay with the first team this year? He’s all but certain to start the season below Czichos, Omsberg, and Terán in the team’s depth chart for center backs, given that Pineda can also play at his position, making it on to game day rosters is likely a challenge. If or when injuries or moves give him more minutes with the Fire, can he take advantage of the opportunity and make a case for himself?
Height: 6’2” DOB: 5-14-90 (32) Foot: Left
GP: 26 Starts: 26 Mins: 2332
G: 3 A: 1 YC: 7 RC: 1
Rafael Czichos was one of the cornerstones of the team’s defense last season and was named team captain before he played a single competitive match with the team. The veteran proved to be a stalwart of the backline and the team’s defending notably suffered in the 8 games he missed with injury last year. In addition to what he provides on the pitch, he also is a locker room leader and the Fire’s content team took full advantage of his rousing pre-game speeches [link to https://www.facebook.com/chicagofire/videos/pov-watching-a-pre-match-speech-inside-a-pro-football-locker-room/980317112592086/].
History with the Fire: Czichos was acquired before the start of the 2022 season from Bundesliga side 1. FC Köln, where he had been a consistent starter.
2022 season in review: Czichos proved to be a stabilizing force for the Fire’s young defensive corps, and his partnership with fellow CB Wyatt Omsberg helped propel his teammate to a breakout year. He was statistically a good, if not elite, defender in the league but had an outsized offensive contribution – the significance of which is hard to overlook on a Fire team that was starved of offense. In addition to the three goals he scored in league play last year, he scored the Fire’s only two goals – both of penalty kicks – in an otherwise forgettable loss to Union Omaha in the team’s only US Open Cup match of 2022.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Czichos stay healthy? In the 8 games he missed due to injury, the team’s defense looked noticeably shakier, missing not only his defensive prowess but also his ability to organize the back line. Can his chemistry with Wyatt Omsberg pick up where it left off, and can he develop chemistry with newcomer Arnaud Souquet?
Height: 6’4” DOB: 9-21-95 (27) Foot: Right
GP: 14 Starts: 14 Mins: 1259
G: 1 A: 0 YC: 2 RC: 0
Wyat Omsberg was having a breakout season for the Fire in his fourth year as a pro before injuring his left foot in the Fire’s win against DC United last June. The Maine-born Dartmouth college product, drafted by Minnesota United, had his first pro goal with the Fire last year and established himself as a starter before the injury.
History with the Fire: Omsberg was acquired from Minnesota United in 2020. He featured in a few games in 2020 – starting in 2 – before making it to about half of the Fire’s games in 2021.
2022 season in review: Omsberg’s fortunes turned under Hendrickson’s first season as head coach. Paired alongside Czichos, he established himself as a starter and was one of the bright spots of the Fire’s roster in early 2022, before his season-ending injury and resultant surgery. Prior to this injury, he was putting up elite-level numbers for interceptions – 1.93 per 90 minutes, good for 90th percentile in the league – and clearances (5.36 per 90, good for the 92nd percentile in the league), amongst other strong defensive numbers.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Omsberg pick up where he left off? He was having a breakout season last year prior to the injury – has he fully recovered? Is the chemistry he developed with Czichos still there? And can he stay as Hendrickson’s favored option over Terán? This is a contract year for Omsberg and if the answer to the questions are “yes,” he’ll have every reason to expect a payday come contract time.
Height: 6’2” DOB: 9-24-2000 (22) Foot: Right
GP: 22 Starts: 19 Mins: 1676
G: 1 A: 0 YC: 6 RC: 0
Carlos Terán nabbed a starting center-back spot in 2022 following the season-ending injury of Wyatt Omsberg, but did well to fend off other options to fit in next to club captain Rafael Czichos for the remainder of the season. The Columbian made his debut in October 2020, and has continued to increase his game time season-to-season since then.
History with the Fire: Terán joined the Fire in August of the 2020 season from Colombian side Envigado FC, where he spent his entire youth career.
2022 Season in review: At the beginning of the 2022 season, the Fire were duly noted for their collective effort as a defensive unit, only giving up 2 goals in a seven-game unbeaten run from their opener against Inter Miami to a nil-nil draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Téran had not grabbed his starting spot just yet, but the results would begin tailing off shortly after. This would be when Fire fans would find out the goals would not be coming often for the team, but with Téran and Czichos at the back, they could at least know the defensive effort (and even occasionally some goals) would come from the two of them. Téran won 56.7% of his duels, and many fans could note that he loves a hard tackle. Not necessarily a struggle, but Téran could improve his game going forward. He had a 79.6% pass completion rate, and only had 10 turnovers.
Key Questions for 2023: With Omsberg being fit again for the 2023 season, it is assumed that Wyatt and Czichos will be the starting center back pair. Can Téran work his way back into a starting role? With the two being injury-prone however, and Téran an option proven reliable, it is hard to tell what game time could consistently look like for the 2023 season. If Téran is not playing the minutes he may want, and with rumored interest in the past from Europe, could he be the next big export out of Chicago?
Height: 6’1” DOB: 10-17-1997 (24) Foot: Right
GP: 27 Starts: 23 Mins: 2002
G: 1 A: 1 YC: 5 RC: 0
Heading into his fourth season with the Fire, Mauricio Pineda has been both popular amongst the fans as well as a constant on the field. Being most frequently deputized as a center back of either side or as a defensive midfielder, Pineda has historically been a utility man for a team that notably lacks depth. For our sake, Pineda is listed as a defender on the Fire’s roster, but we expect him to compete for minutes at center back and as a number six.
History with the Fire: Younger brother of original homegrown Victor Pineda, Bolingbrook native Mauricio joined the Fire’s youth academy when he was ten years old. Afterward, he would spend four years playing collegiately as a Tar Heel at the Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Fire would be able to exercise the option to sign Pineda as a Homegrown player in early 2020.
2022 Season in review: With a few injuries to defensive midfielder and former designated player Gastón Giménez, alongside the starting center-back pool being frequently revolved due to injury as well, Pineda most commonly started in whichever position in the most need. Pineda scored a single goal, which came in a 2-3 loss to Charlotte FC in September 2022. With an 85.6 accurate pass percentage and winning 72.4% of his duels, Pineda was consistently performing well in a team that was hoping to work its way into a playoff spot.
Key Questions for 2023: Will Mauricio Pineda be a starting midfielder partner for Fede Navarro on opening day? Gastón Giménez is injured and expected to miss the opener versus NYCFC, and with the expectation that Ezra Hendrikson will maintain his typical 4-2-3-1, Pineda is the player with the most similar playing profile to Giménez. Moving forward, when Gaston returns, will we see Pineda continue to get consistent minutes? Will he play both as a defensive midfielder and a center-back? Will Ezra throw Pineda into any other positions as a band-aid?
Height: 5’8” DOB: 5-15-1997 (25)
2022 Stats (2022-2023 season with Birmingham Legion – USL Championship):
GP: 36 Starts: 36 Mins: 3270
G: 2 A: 6 YC: 3 RC: 0
Heading into his first season in MLS, Jonathan Dean could end up playing in a variety of roles, but we expect him to be a competitive option for the right-back spot. Dean comes from USL Championship side Birmingham Legion, where he made 81 appearances across two seasons. Initially drafted by Orlando City in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, he was released, allowing him to then join Birmingham on a free deal. Dean played collegiately for Wofford College and the University of Central Florida.
History with the Fire: Dean was acquired from the Legion on January 12th for an undisclosed fee.
2022 season in review: Dean primarily played as a right-back for the Birmingham Legion however, he has also played as a right-winger or left-midfielder. All of his contributions come from the right-back spot, and in 2022 Dean has 2 goals and 6 assists while the Legion finished 4th in the Eastern Conference of the USL Championship. Dean was particularly reliable, playing over 3000 minutes while also being rarely disciplined.
Key Questions for 2023: With only Souquet as his natural competition at right-back, is it possible we could see Dean start at the beginning of the season? Dean entered the team preseason camp significantly earlier than Souquet visa delays, so it is not all too unrealistic to say Dean could be the starter on opening day. If that is the case, could we see Dean remain the starter all season? As he rarely gets booked or gets injured, it looks like Dean can be an incredibly reliable option on a team that needs consistency. Could we even see Dean bag a few goals and assists?
Miguel Ángel Navarro
Height: 5’9” DOB: 2-26-1999 (24) Foot: Left
GP: 25 Starts: 24 Mins: 2171
G: 0 A: 1 YC: 9 RC: 1
Since his arrival in Chicago, Miguel Navarro has made the left-back position his own. Being with the Fire since he was 20, he has played 19+ games in each of his last three seasons. The Venezuelan international has done well to earn consistent game time despite his age since his debut against the New England Revolution in March of 2020.
History with the Fire: Miguel was acquired in January 2020 from Venezuelan side Deportivo La Guaira, where he had made 42 appearances in his lone season at the Club.
2022 Season in review: Historically, Miguel Navarro’s attacking output has been relatively poor for the Fire, only racking in a single assist in 2022, followed by only 3 others behind that. It being a tactical issue is likely out of the question, as Navarro’s previous outside-back partner Boris Sekulic tallied 9 assists in his three-season tenure. With only a 40% success rate for dribbles and a few notable errant passes to give away opposition goals, Navarro did not have the greatest of seasons attack-wise in a league where attacking fullbacks thrive. On the other hand, Navarro held a 63.5% success rate for defensive duels and led the team in interceptions.
Key Questions for 2023: With consistent rumors of the Fire shopping around for another left-back, will Miguel be able to produce the numbers needed to keep his starting spot? He puts up solid defensive numbers, however, tends to fall behind while going forward. With Sekulic leaving after the club, and Souquet just recently joining up with the team, Navarro will have to step up his productivity in the attacking half in order to help get this team into the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Will Navarro be able to fight off his impending competition? If he cannot, what will his future look like?
Height: 5’9” DOB: 4-8-2004 (18)
2022 Stats (2022 season with Chicago Fire II – MLS Next Pro):
GP: 14 Starts: 11 Mins: 908
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 2 RC: 2
Homegrown product Justin Reynolds started his pro career last year, playing with Chicago Fire FC II of MLS Next Pro. The younger brother of Andre Reynolds II, who featured for the FIre in several matches before leaving the game, Reynolds is currently listed as the backup at left back but don’t be surprised to see him playing mostly in Fire II this year.
History with the Fire: A product of the Fire Academy, Reynolds signed his first pro contract with the club and played his first professional minutes with Fire II last year. He has yet to feature for the parent club.
2022 Season in review: In his first professional season, Reynolds established himself as a regular in MLS Next Pro and quickly became a starter for the junior club. He was unable to break through to the main squad, however – not that, at his age, he’d have been expected to.
Key Questions for 2023: It looks like Reynolds may be getting time with the parent club at the start of the season – can he make a case to stick around? If he does, will Ezra trust him with minutes, or will he join the ranks of homegrowns that make the roster but seldom see the pitch? If he can’t – can he continue to grow with Fire II and make a case for a return to the parent squad?
Height: 5’10” DOB: 2-12-1992 (31) Foot: Right
2022 Stats (2022-2023 season with Montpellier HSC – Ligue 1):
GP: 12 Starts: 3 Mins: 343
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 1 RC: 0
The most notable signing for the Fire while the European transfer window was still open in January, Arnaud Souquet is the most notable newcomer on the team’s back line as of this time of writing. He comes in to replace Boris Sekulić who left the club prior to the termination of his deal by mutual agreement. About a year younger than Sekulić and on about the same wages, he’ll be expected to provide veteran leadership on and off the pitch, particularly given the number of younger defenders on the squad.
History with the Fire: Acquired from Montpellier HSC in Ligue 1 at the end of January.
2022 Season in review: Souquet was a regular starter for Montpellier in the 2021-2022 season but found himself playing in a reserve role for the Ligue 1 club under new manager Michel de Zakarian. Despite playing fewer minutes, he still put up elite numbers for tackles (3.26 per 90 minutes, good for 98th percentile in the league), tackles won (2.33, 99th percentile), dribblers challenged (3.00, 96th percentile), interceptions (1.46, 88th percentile) and aerials (1.86, 95 percentile). That last number is significant given both his height and the fact that that’s an area that many of the Fire’s other defenders have not excelled in.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Souquet’s game adjust to MLS? Though the speed of play in Ligue 1 is undoubtedly quicker than MLS, MLS is relatively attacking-heavy and can be a more physical league. That, plus the grueling travel schedule – plus the fact that Souquet has already been playing more than half a season before this one began – might prove a strain on him. Past that, can he live up to the billing? While Souquet isn’t on a DP-level deal, he’s considerably more expensive than many quality MLS right backs, and he’ll occupy a valuable international slot on the team’s roster. The issue with Sekulić, his effective predecessor, wasn’t entirely about quality of play but about value – if Souquet can adjust to the league and maintain the kinds of numbers he did in Ligue 1 while also finding a way to contribute to the offense occasionally, he will have proved his worth.