After the Fire’s dramatic 3-3 draw against Atlanta United at the weekend, Frank Klopas took the fight to Austin by making significant tactical changes looking to catch Josh Wolff off-guard. The Fire appeared to line up in their typical 4-2-3-1 but quickly shifted into a 5-2-3, which worked in the Fire’s favor early on as Rafa Czichos opened the scoring with a header in the 35th minute. As Austin got a better grip of the game in the second half, lockdown defense kept the Verde’s attack from ever scoring, with Xherdan Shaqiri and Kacper Przybyłko taking advantage of these struggles to combine for a second Chicago goal. Here is a short recap of the Fire’s individual performers.
*Players are listed in the order they lined up, followed by substitutes in the order they appeared
Spencer Richey (7.5) – Now appearing as the Fire’s go-to cup keeper, Klopas went with Richey between the posts for the Fire which turned out to be a great choice. Untested for large stretches of the game, Richey came up big in the last ten minutes of the game when making a close-distance save in the 84th followed by another save just a minute later. Although minutes have been hard to come by for the goalkeeper, Spencer Richey has been making the most out of what he has gotten this season.
Miguel Ángel Navarro (7) – Navarro continued to fend off the sharks of the Fire’s left-back pool with another sound performance here against Austin. Miggy had six of the Fire’s 16 interceptions and boasted notable tallies in other defensive statistics. Navarro did make an effort to get involved when going forward as the Fire’s left-wingback at times, but the Venezuelan’s passing was his biggest flaw here, as he only completed 71% of his passes.
Rafael Czichos (8) – The Fire’s opening goalscorer, Czichos, tallied off of a free header on a cross swung in by Brian Gutiérrez to loop the ball to the far post and into the back of the net in the 35th minute to get the Fire ahead. Besides scoring, Czichos kept the team’s backline largely disciplined and ensured that they only bent and not broke. Statistically solid as well, Czichos had seven ball recoveries and a 90% pass accuracy.
Mauricio Pineda (7) – Just hours after signing a contract extension running until 2027, Pineda returned to the starting XI as Czichos’ center-back partner once again. Mauri followed his renewal up with another quality performance, helping keep Austin from ever finding their footing in the center of the park. Pineda also had a 90% passing accuracy and won five out of nine of his total duels.
Arnaud Souquet (7) – Under Klopas, Arnaud Souquet has really taken a knack for trying to make bombing runs out of opposition presses in order to advance the Fire up the field. The defender was very active in finding attacking openings despite pretty much playing as a third center-back in this game, and when he did take an errant touch or provide a poor pass, his teammates either helped retrieve the ball in haste, or the Frenchman was fouled. Another good game from Souquet.
Gastón Giménez (7) – After missing the last game against Atlanta due to yellow card accumulation, Gastón was back to starting in the Fire’s midfield. Giménez physically was not too involved with the team’s defending, however, the Paraguayan was extremely positionally aware and avoided being caught out by Austin. Overall, it was another performance by Giménez which helps justify the Fire’s decision to keep him on board despite past season’s showings. Gastón was substituted in the 72nd minute for Jairo Torres.
Federico Navarro (7.5) – With Fede getting a slight rest after being sent off early against Atlanta United, the Argentine looked extremely energetic in the midfield. Navarro won three tackles, had two interceptions, and constantly disrupted whatever flow Austin was trying to find. With a performance like this, it is a shame the Fire will be without Fede as the focus shifts back to Major League Soccer with a game against the New England Revolution on the horizon.
Xherdan Shaqiri (8.5) – A quality choice for the game’s man of the match, Xherdan Shaqiri looks like a brand-new player under Klopas. Shaqiri constantly provided through balls for his teammates to run onto, and no matter how tight the gap between his teammate and the opposition defender was, the ball was going to get to a confetti-clad runner. Shaqiri was rewarded for his resilience after a saved shot of his landed right back to his feet, with Shaq then simply squaring it to Kacper Przybyłko for the finish.
Maren Haile-Selassie (7.5) – Playing as a right wing-back in the 5-2-3, Haile-Selassie was defensively solid, which is impressive, considering Maren is known for his attacking play and dribbling. The Swiss winger posted two tackles and won 67% of his duels, potentially suggesting to Klopas that he could be trusted to play in this position again. Attacking-wise, Haile-Selassie could have done better in terms of providing service; however, his one-on-one attacking was great again.
Brian Gutiérrez (7) – Playing primarily as the Fire’s left-winger in their front three, Guti had a performance quieter than he has recently provided. Given the tactical changes made by Klopas, it appeared the Fire were not always in sync with each other, Gutiérrez included. Nevertheless, Guti did get the Fire ahead in the 35th minute with a whipped corner to the back post, which found the head of Czichos who looped it over Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver. Guti didn’t do much dribbling, but his passing and linkup play was quality. Gutiérrez was subbed off for Fabian Herbers in the 65th minute.
Kei Kamara (6) – After a minor injury, Kamara started as the Fire’s number nine but did not leave much of an impression on this match. Kei did press well for the majority of his tenure on the field but did not offer the attacking potency he is often known for. Kamara was substituted for Kacper Przybyłko in the 72nd minute.
Fabian Herbers (6) – Appearing in the 65th minute as a substitute for Brain Gutiérrez, Herbers has just been a bit too hesitant and slow on the pitch to shift his play out of just being average at best. Given the situation and the tactical configuration of the Fire, I’ll cut Herbers some slack here, but as of recently, the German’s performances have been sloping ever-so slightly downwards.
Kacper Przybyłko (7.5) – Replacing Kamara in the 72nd minute, Przybyłko scored just five minutes later after Shaqiri passed the ball across the box for a simple finish. Besides that, Kacper looked lively as the Fire made sure to keep the pressure on Austin in order to protect their lead.
Jairo Torres (6.5) – Torres replaced Giménez in the 72nd minute of play and found it difficult to get involved in the game due to the Austin press. With Jairo being limited to just six touches in 23 minutes, there was not a whole lot to take out of his performance, however, JT did complete all of his passes, engage in three duels, and grab a clearance.
Kendall Burks (N/A) – Burks was introduced in the 88th minute of play, and as there were only around seven minutes of play afterward, he cannot be awarded a proper rating.
Frank Klopas (8.5) – Besides reinvigorating an overall sense of energy into this Fire side and finally getting Shaqiri looking like he wants to play, impact substitutions have been a notable positive of Klopas’ third turn at the helm. It has been night and day when comparing the subs made by Ezra Hendrickson and those of Klopas. The Fire’s record under Klopas this season across all competitions is currently 3-1-1, and in every game but the loss against Charlotte, a goal has been scored by a substitute. This is a vast difference from the four two-goal leads blown at the beginning of the season, and the most amazing part is that there have been no personnel changes yet. Klopas is simply getting the most out of what is currently available, and that in itself is impressive.