With the start of the 2023 Fire season just days away, MIR97 is evaluating each player on the team’s roster. Following our preview of goalkeepers and defenders and midfielders, we’re wrapping things up by taking a look at the team’s forwards. As with our previous roster coverage, we’ll give a short overview of each player, including how they joined the Fire, a review of their 2022 season, and key questions coming ahead of the 2023 campaign.
To tee up our coverage of the team’s forward corps, Colin Chough will discuss the expected tactics of forwards under Fire Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson’s system.
The profile of the kind of number nine that Ezra Hendrickson wants in his team has been made ever so clear since acquiring the signature of Kei Kamara this past week. Kamara, the league’s third most prolific goal scorer in history, stands at a height of 6 foot 3. The Sierra Leonean’s competition, Kacper Pryzbyłko and Victor Bezerra, are 6 foot 4 and 6 foot 2, respectively. Ezra is looking to utilize his center forward as a target man who presents a physical threat in the box. With more technically sound and creative players on the wings and in attacking midfield, it makes sense that Hendrickson will be deploying a big number nine in his starting XI. As for the wingers, Ezra will either play two inverted wingers or an inverted winger on the left side, with a conventional winger off of the right wing. It is guaranteed Ezra starts a right-footed player on the left in either Chris Mueller or Jairo Torres. The right side is where things could get interesting. Although it is expected that Brian Gutiérrez starts on the right with Shaqiri as the ten, Ezra could flip the two so that the left-footed Shaqiri is playing in his more natural position as an inverted right winger. However, it may be wise to leave Guti on the wing so that Pryzbyłko can operate in more space centrally. From the wing, Shaqiri really likes to drive inside on the dribble, and could potentially crowd the nine’s space. Ezra may want the right-footed Guti swinging the ball in from the right wing in order to get the most out of the Fire’s target man.
Height: 6’2” DOB: 2-5-2000 (23)
GP: 5 Starts: 0 Mins: 43
G: 0 A: 0 YC: 1 RC: 0
Bezerra spent most of his debut season as a professional with the Fire II of MLS Next Pro, where he notched 8 goals and 2 assists in 938 minutes (16 matches). He saw limited minutes with the big club, with five appearances off the bench, and his playing time largely came off the bench in the dying minutes of those matches. He’s certainly shown real potential with the Fire II, but it’s not clear whether he’ll seize the momentum from last year with strong performances – be it in MLS Next Pro or in training – to take the next step this season.
History with the Fire: A Fire Academy product who played college ball with the Indiana Hoosiers, Bezerra was signed to a homegrown player deal prior to the start of the 2022 preseason.
2022 season in review: Spent the bulk of the season with Fire II in MLS Next Pro, and though he was often a fixture on game-day lineups with the parent club, he only made matchday logs as a late-minute substitute or in earning a lone yellow card.
Key Questions for 2023: Can he make a case for real minutes with the Fire? At 23 years old, this is far from the end of Bezerra’s professional career, but it’s safe to say that it’s the end of the beginning of it. His goals per 90 minutes of play in MLS Next Pro were impressive, and as it stands, the Fire will likely have availability for anyone that can show an ability and willingness to perform at the striker position – but can Bezerra show he’s got what it takes to play in MLS?
Height: 6’0” DOB: 8-17-1993 (29) Foot: Right
GP: 25 Starts: 10 Mins: 1070
G: 1 A: 1 YC: 5 RC: 0
No player on the Fire’s current roster has more appearances with the club than Herbers’ 90; in fact Herbers is now the only non-homegrown player that predates the tenure of Technical Director Georg Heitz. At 29, the Creighton University product from Ahaus, Germany remains a fast option off the bench, playing primarily on the right wing but has also played as a striker.
History with the Fire: Joined the Fire from the Philadelphia Union before the 2019 season. Has scored 8 goals and 7 assists in 90 appearances and 5,093 minutes with the club.
2022 season in review: Herbers started 10 games with the Fire, though that was partly due to injuries elsewhere with the squad. Despite being primarily a back up player, he was the team-leader in aerials won, wining 86 in total, good for 53.6% (93rd percentile in the league), and put up elite numbers for ball recoveries (6.68 per 90 minutes, 99th percentile) and put up some of the league’s best defensive numbers amongst forwards.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Herbers compete for minutes? With young and talented Brian Gutierrez looking to have a breakout season at Herber’s preferred spot on the right wing, and fellow homegrown Alex Monis pressing to become the team’s second option at left wing, there’s a real chance that Herbers will face more competition for minutes than he has in recent years. If not – at 29, can his game adapt? Herbers has put up elite defensive numbers and while he is still fast, his game will likely need to change as he ages. Other players – including former Fire player Jonathan Bornstein – prolonged their careers by transitioning their games towards more defensive roles as they aged – is Herbers able (and willing) to do the same?
Height: 6’3” DOB: 9-1-1984 (38) Foot: Right
2022 Stats (with CF Montréal):
GP: 32 Starts:14 Mins: 1551
G: 9 A: 7 YC: 1 RC: 0
The third-most successful scorer in MLS league history, the Fire will be Kei Kamara’s 10th MLS club. At 38 years old and in his 16th season in the league, Kamara starts the season with 139 regular-season goals, just 6 back of Landon Donovan for second place in league history. As the Fire’s only player born in the 1980s, he’ll be expected to bring not just his offensive talents but also veteran leadership to the squad. Despite his age, his 9 goals and 7 assists from last season would have led the Fire in both categories and put him comfortably ahead of last season’s leading-scorer Jhon Durán in points per 90 minutes (1.04 to Durán’s 0.73).
History with the Fire: Acquired from CF Montréal for $250,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) with an additional $150,000 conditional on performance incentives.
2022 season in review: In his first (and only) season with his 9th MLS club, Kamara was utilized as a starter at times and off the bench at others. Regardless of how he came onto the pitch, Kamara proved he still has what it takes to be an offensive threat in this league with Montéal last season. Starting both playoff games, however, he was kept off the score sheet and failed to look particularly effective in either.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Kamara keep it up? For the second season in a row, the Fire are acquiring a veteran MLS striker with a strong resumé. Last year, it was Kacper Przybyłko, whose production and iron-man status, having played in every game for the two previous seasons – had a significant drop off upon arriving in the Windy City. Given Kamara’s age and Fire’s recent track record with strikers, it’s an open question of whether he can maintain his previous levels of production, but if he can – while we’re asking questions – can he overtake Lando for the league’s number 2 spot on all-time scorers while wearing a Fire uniform?
Height: 5’6” DOB: 3-20-2003 (19) Foot: Right
GP: 1 Starts: 0 Mins: 1
G: 1 A: 0 YC: 0 RC: 0
Notably scoring in the single minute he had for his MLS Debut, Alex Monis spent the majority of his time in 2022 playing with the Fire II, playing 21 games while scoring 5 goals. The Downers Grove native was also previously loaned out to Forward Madison FC, where he would make 7 appearances in the USL 1 from 2019 to 2020. Monis has also appeared for the U-16 United States Men’s National Team.
History with the Fire: Alex Monis was signed to a homegrown deal with the Fire on March 11th, 2020, while he was only 16 years old. Monis came up through the former Fire Juniors program before reaching the academy.
2022 season in review: Alex Monis only made a single appearance in MLS last year, but during that minute of his time on the field, he would score the equalizer to make it 1-1 against the New England Revolution on October 9th, 2022. Referring to his time with the Fire II, Monis was typically deployed as a right or left winger and played on the last matchday of the MLS Next Season.
Key Questions for 2023: Will Monis be able to make the first team this year? With plenty of games this year for the Fire and general unfavorability for MLS Next Pro as a whole, Monis should have the opportunity to impress Ezra Hendrickson and earn game time. What would his minutes look like? Would he play on the right or the left? Can he make his mark on the winger pool this year, or will he feature primarily for the Fire II again?
Height: 5’9” DOB: 8-29-1996 (26) Foot: Right
GP: 24 Starts: 23 Mins: 1974
G: 4 A: 5 YC: 5 RC: 0
Schaumburg’s very own Chris Mueller was a bright spot in a fairly bleak Chicago Fire attack last season. Mueller, who did not join the Fire until May of 2022, helped reinvigorate the Fire out on the wings by bringing impressive dribbling and an eye for creating some sort of end product in front of the goal. Mueller was the 6th pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and was chosen by Orlando City from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UW-Madison, Mueller would be named Big Ten Offensive Player of The Year. Mueller would make over 100 appearances for Orlando City before a brief stint with Hibernian F.C. in the Scottish Premiership, which is the first tier of Scottish Soccer. Mueller has also appeared in friendlies for the United States Men’s National Team.
History with the Fire: The Fire acquired Mueller via a free transfer from Hibernian. Despite this, The Fire sent $500,000 in General Allocation Money to Orland City across two installments, along with the Fire’s naturally granted 2023 first-round pick in the MLS Superdraft, MLS Discovery Rights to an unknown player, and potentially even more General Allocation Money depending on performance-based add-ons. Orlando also retains a percentage of any future transfer fee Mueller may warrant. Complicated.
2022 season in review: Despite arriving while the season was ongoing, Mueller would hit the ground running again in MLS. Mueller would lead the team in successful dribbles with 33 and would finish within the top 3 of several categories such as goals + assists (9), total crosses, and accurate pass percentage. Outside of statistics, Mueller was known for the ability to run at defenders an cause havoc. Specifically, against the Philadelphia Union on June 29th, 2022, Mueller individually would take MLS All-star defender Kai Wagner on the dribble, absolutely putting him into a blender before passing the ball off to Boris Sekulić, who would assist Federico Navarro as they would grab a 1-0 upset win. Despite the impressiveness of his return, Mueller would find himself in the occasional dry-spell in terms of attacking output. This happens to all players, of course. However, due to the lack of attacking depth, the Fire would severely struggle in their hunt for goals.
Key Questions for 2023: Will Mueller be able to consistently provide the attacking threat the Fire need to get them into the playoffs? Now going into a full season of games, could we see Mueller amongst the league-wide stat leaders for assists and goals? With it likely that the striker position sees a lot of different faces playing in it, can Mueller build a connection with the striker pool to beat his personal best 7 assists in a season? If his performances improve further, could we see Mueller return to the United States Men’s National Team?
Height: 6’4” DOB: 3-25-1993 (29) Foot: Both
GP: 25 Starts: 18 Mins: 1606
G: 5 A: 1 YC: 3 RC: 0
When Przybylko joined the Fire in 2022, he was the biggest intra-league acquisition the Fire made under Technical Director Georg Heitz’s tenure for a comfortable margin. In the season before joining the Fire, he was the Supporters Shield-winning Philadelphia Union’s leading scorer and the top goal scorer in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, and finished his 3 seasons with the Union with 49 points in 83 appearances. He seemed genuinely excited to be playing in Chicago – his wife has family in the Chicago area, and the Fire promised him a guaranteed multi-year deal, something the Union were unwilling to do. Unfortunately, his season in Chicago fell well short of expectations, with his 0.28 goals per 90 minutes a small fraction of his performance in Philadelphia. He enters this season with considerably humbler expectations following that year.
History with the Fire: Acquired for $1.15m in General Allocation Money (GAM) from the Philadelphia Union prior to the start of the 2022 preseason.
2022 season in review: After a slow start to the season, Kacper finally found the back of the net in the team’s 4th game, notching a brace against Sporting KC. Following that, however, he had a quiet month, failing to find his way onto the scoresheet in the next month when he suffered a back injury that saw him miss about a month of play. He simply didn’t seem like the same player following the injury, which saw him miss more time in September before being a last-minute sub in the team’s final match of the season against New England. The injury affected almost every aspect of his game, from his speed to ability to take balls on the half- and quarter-turn, though he did manage to find three goals, including his second brace of the season on August 6 against Charlotte. Significantly, he didn’t miss a single match to injury in his final two seasons with Philadelphia, though he’d had prior injury troubles (foot) playing in the Bundesliga.
Key Questions for 2023: Can he revert to his pre-injury form? Even if he didn’t get off to a blazing start to the year, he simply did not look like an effective player following his injury. Also – what competition will he have? Even if new acquisition Kai Kamara will likely have limited minutes given his age (38), the team is expected to bring on at least one, if not two, additional strikers this season, including, possibly, a DP. If that happens, it’s worth wondering what his role will be with the club
Height: 5’9” DOB: 2-9-2003 (20) Foot: N/A
2022 Stats (2022 season with Chicago Fire II – MLS Next Pro):
GP: 21 Starts: 12 Mins: 1147
G: 7 A: 0 YC: 3 RC: 0
One name that has been present in this year’s striker pool is homegrown Missael Rodriguez, notable earning minutes and even scoring during the team’s preseason outing. Missael, also known simply as “Missa”, has been one of the more prominent forwards in MLS Next. Although he has not played for the first team yet, Missa
History with the Fire: Missa joined the Fire academy in 2017-18, and was signed to a homegrown deal with the Fire on October 12th, 2021.
2022 season in review: Missael finished tied for second for goals across the Fire II’s roster, only falling 1 goal behind Victor Bezerra. Besides that, Missa finished within the top 5 of the team for successful dribbles and total scoring attempts as well.
Key Questions for 2023: Can Missa force his way into contention for a starting spot as a striker? Will Missa be able to grab minutes during cup games if not? Potentially for MLS Next, will we see Missa continue to perform well if he grabs minutes for the first team?
Height: 5’7” DOB: 7-5-2000 (22) Foot: Right
GP: 14 Starts: 6 Mins: 684
G: 0 A: 1 YC: 1 RC: 0
Last season, it was thought that as long as the Fire could get moderately good results until the mid-season arrival of designated player Jairo Torres, then his performances would elevate the team into a playoff position. Unfortunately, that never happened. The former Mexico youth international struggled for both fitness and form last season, never finding a rhythm in 2022. Coming through the youth academy at Atlas F.C. in Liga MX, Torres was well regarded as one of the best talents in the league. Before his time with the Fire, Torres won the 2021 Liga MX Apertura with Atlas, the CONCACAF U-17 Championship title with the Mexico, alongside winning the Golden Ball award at the U-17 Championship, which is awarded for the best player of the tournament.
History with the Fire: It was announced in February 2022 that Torres would join the Fire via transfer on May 1st, 2022. Torres would remain with Atlas until May 1st so that the club could continue to compete fully in the Liga MX Apertura season.
2022 season in review: 2022 was a season to forget for Jairo, as he failed to meet just about every expectation placed before his arrival. Torres would only register a single assist and be ranked in the lower half of the team for a majority of attacking and passing statistics. It should be noted, though, that for the Fire, Torres was typically deployed as a right-winger. At his best for Atlas, Torres played as a center midfielder who was allowed the freedom to attack more often than a typical number 8. The culmination of playing out of position, moving to a foreign country, getting injured, and the expectation of having to help transform the Fire immediately most likely created an insanely heavy burden on Torres. Despite this, it has been noted by Ezra Hendrickson that Torres has hired a personal trainer and chef in order to perform better in 2023. On top of that, with pre-season injury problems affecting midfielder Gastón Giménez, as well as Jairo playing in his preferred position in preseason, it is possible we see him pair Federico Navarro in Ezra’s traditional double pivot in midfield.
Key Questions for 2023: Will Jairo Torres be able to have a comeback year in 2023? Depending on his position, what will Jairo’s production numbers look like? With a fully fit squad, what position will be played in? If Jairo cannot produce and we do not see a change in form, what will his future look like? With a designated-player contract until 2025, does Torres’ future lie elsewhere if he does not find form?