It’s safe to say that Xherdan Shaqiri’s two years in Chicago haven’t entirely gone to plan so far. A widely-hyped signing on an $8 million per year Designated Player contract, the Swiss legend was supposed to be one of the most dominant players in the league and a centerpiece for a team that would easily make the postseason. He’s neither been dominant nor the star for his own team; 20-year-old homegrown Brian Gutiérrez has mostly stolen his limelight and, at times, demoted Shaqiri to the bench.
Tomorrow, he’ll have an opportunity to prove the nay-sayers wrong and turn up in a big moment: a sold-out marquee showdown at home against Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami. With or without the soon-to-be eight-time Balon d’Or winner, the game will be the biggest and most important of recent memory for the Fire, who will both have an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to thousands of soccer fans in Chicago and put themselves in a strong position to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The script seems written for Shaqiri, known throughout his storied career as a big game player. Fans will remember his hattrick against Honduras that sent Switzerland through to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup, clutch goals against arch-nemesis Serbia in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, a world-class bicycle kick against Poland in Euro 2016, and an important equalizer against Spain in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals. He’s yet to produce a truly memorable and game-changing moment during his time in Chicago, but with over 60,000 tickets sold, tomorrow is a perfect chance for the #10 to flip the script.
“These are the best games to play all the time,” Shaqiri said Monday. “As a player, you want these kinds of final games and to play for something. We put ourselves in this position, and we have a chance to do it, so now we have to perform.”
The implications of this game within the season are huge; a win would likely put the Fire above the playoff line with two games to spare, and defeating the hottest team in MLS since the summer would also be a huge psychological boost ahead of challenging games against playoff rivals Charlotte and New York City. Winning all three remaining would guarantee a postseason berth, and Shaqiri hopes he can help the team deliver.
“We have a chance now,” Shaqiri added. “Everything is in our hands, too, so we can make the playoffs this season. But we need the points. Of course, everyone can improve, me included. I try to help my team as best as possible with my skills, with my tools, what I have, and what I’m very good at, so I try to help the team every time.”
Head Coach Frank Klopas knows that even though Shaqiri hasn’t been at his best in 2023, he can still be someone who can elevate himself on the big stage.
“For me, he’s still a difference-maker, and in every match, I think he provides moments in his play that can change the game,” Klopas said. “I’ve always said that we need obviously other very good players on the team, very good team performance within the match to get the results.”
“In the big moments, he’s always the kind of guy that you can count on. I know that he’s going to be ready to give us something extra on Wednesday as we put ourselves in a great spot now.”
Right now, there’s no bigger moment for the Chicago Fire than when the opening whistle blows at Soldier Field tomorrow night against Inter Miami. Shaqiri not only has an opportunity to get his own season back on track, but to help win over thousands of new potential fans for the club, and finally guide the Men in Red back to the promised land.