The international break has now concluded, and the Chicago Fire’s stars are set to return home to prepare for the crucial final game against New York City. Several Fire players, both from the first team and reserves, performed at the international level this week, so let’s take a quick look back before MLS play resumes on Saturday.
Switzerland are on the brink of EURO 2024 qualification in no small part to their talisman, Xherdan Shaqiri. The Nati only played one game in the international break as their road game with Israel was canceled in light of recent events, taking on Belarus in St. Gallen; Shaqiri scored the opening goal, a beautiful strike from outside the box, and had an assist later in the game to lead a last-gasp comeback from 3-1 down. Goals in the 89th and 90th minutes ensured the Swiss avoided a shock defeat at home, earning a point against the Belarusians.
STOP THAT, SHAQIRI 😱🇨🇭 pic.twitter.com/T3dVCFUiL2
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 15, 2023
While Shaqiri has struggled for most of 2023, the last few weeks have been a breath of fresh air. His two-goal showing against Inter Miami two weeks ago, combined with an improved performance against Charlotte and a man-of-the-match outing in the international break, provides hope that the big-money Designated Player can come in clutch when the Fire need him most on Decision Day against NYCFC.
Despite injuries to two players shortly before the window started, Maren Haile-Selassie was not called into Switzerland camp. He’s still worthy of an opportunity, though, and it could arise in the coming months if he keeps up his good form.
One of the top stories emerging in international soccer right now is the hot start of Venezuela in CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualifying. La Vinotinto are now tied for second place in the standings after four matches and arguably put up the best results of any team in the world this window. A smash-and-grab 1-1 draw at Brazil, featuring a late bicycle kick from Mazatlán’s Eduard Bello, caught headlines before they rolled over potential qualification rivals Chile 3-0 in Maturín.
— CONMEBOL.com (@CONMEBOL) October 13, 2023
The Fire’s Miguel Ángel Navarro started and played 90 minutes in the home demolition of a Chile team featuring the likes of Alexis Sánchez, Charles Aránguiz, and Ben Brereton Díaz. Navarro was lights out for the entire match and was one of Venezuela’s top performers. He linked up well with former Toronto FC winger Yeferson Soteldo, who led his team with a goal and an assist.
Despite an up-and-down season with the Fire, Navarro has helped his country build a solid foundation towards reaching their first-ever World Cup, and now, will be hoping to translate that experience into a good performance in the final game of the MLS season.
Homegrown stars Chris Brady and Brian Gutiérrez were both called into the first camp of the U.S. U-23 Olympic cycle for 2024, with the pair each earning one start in this camp. The U.S. team, led by former Fire assistant Marko Mitrović, easily defeated strong opposition in Mexico (2-1) and Japan (4-1) in dominant performances. The strong introduction for the Olympic group bodes well for what should be an interesting couple of months leading up to the games in Paris next summer.
Gutiérrez started the first game of the window against Mexico, the country of his heritage. While the game was not streamed, it was reported that Guti played well, and he came close to scoring when his rebound off of Taylor Booth’s missed penalty hit the side netting. He was involved in the attack and had some good moments, though he was playing out on the wing as opposed to through the center. The 20-year-old came off the bench for a 23-minute cameo against Japan.
Brady did not play in the first game against Mexico as he was rested, and prioritized for what was thought to be the tougher game against Japan. The three goalkeepers in this camp split minutes equally, and he came off midway through the second half to make way for John Pulskamp. Brady had a solid game and made some good saves, so things are looking positive for the 19-year-old heading into this weekend’s game.
No Gastón, no party
Gastón Giménez made his return to the Paraguayan national team this international window to much fanfare, but he did not see the field. Amidst enduring a two-year wait to be called in again, Giménez has been in great form lately, with his man of the match performance against Miami likely playing a big part in his Paraguay recall. He was not rewarded with any minutes by head coach Daniel Garnero, though.
Paraguay dropped their opening game 1-0 at Argentina despite a good fight. They then squealed past Bolivia with an unconvincing 1-0 win at home behind a second half goal from substitute Antonio Sanabria. It was Paraguay’s first win of qualifying.
Fire II derby
Two of the best players from this year’s MLS Next Pro team faced off against each other in the CONCACAF Nations League: Omari Glasgow and Noeh Hernández. Their national teams, Guyana and Puerto Rico, met twice back to back, with the games being held in San Juan and Georgetown.
Hernández, who recently left the Fire organization to play college soccer at DePaul, started the opening game at left back. It was an important moment for the 18-year-old, who made his first Puerto Rico start last month, though his team lost both matches by a score of 3-1. Hernández has been in great form lately for the Blue Devils, including scoring a brace against then-ranked UIC in a 3-1 win.
Puerto Rico’s misfortune was the gain of Fire II’s Omari Glasgow, who scored in both matches. The 19-year-old has been a revelation both in MLS Next Pro and at the international level since the Fire plucked him out of the Caribbean coastal nation nearly two years ago, and one would imagine that a first team promotion in his future.
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 17, 2023
While qualification is still a bit of a long shot, Greece are still alive in the U-21 Euros, thanks to Georgios Koutsias. The 19-year-old scored an 89th minute winner for his nation against Croatia, earning an important point. Koutsi started both games in this window for Greece, so it does seem unlikely he’ll start against NYCFC, even though he’s been by far the Fire’s best striker over the last few weeks.
Considering Koutsias was held back from his national team earlier in the year, it is nice to see him succeeding in the blue uniform. He continues to establish himself as one of Greece’s top young talents, and could thrive in Chicago if his development is handled properly.
— Football Report (@FootballReprt) October 13, 2023