The Chicago Fire’s season and home opener for 2023 resulted in a 1-1 draw against New York City FC. Somewhat surprisingly, Spencer Richey started between the posts, but the starting XI was pretty much what most fans expected. Gabriel Pereira, who scored against the Fire in the last match between these two sides, scored the opener right before half-time. Fire manager Ezra Hendrickson would substitute both wingers and the striker, with Fabian Herbers moving up to eventually play as a right-winger, who would then score the equalizer in the 75th minute.
Lineup: Richey; M. Navarro, Czichos ©, Terán, Souquet; F. Navarro (Pineda 14’), Torres (Herbers, 45+3’); Mueller (Haile-Selassie 64’), Shaqiri, Gutiérrez (Giménez 64’); Przybyłko (Kamara 46’)
Spencer Richey (7) – Most people expected either Chris Brady or Jeffrey Gal to start tonight, however, Spencer Richey would emerge as the starter for the evening following Brady being listed as unavailable at kickoff. Richey would only make 2 saves, however, both were made on solid scoring opportunities where NYCFC could have easily continued to lead. With few errors in his general play, it looks like Richey can emerge as a potential starting option for now.
Arnaud Souquet (7) – Making his debut for the Fire, the right-back had a strong showing in terms of his positioning and defending. The Frenchman would consistently make quality overlapping runs to try and attempt to provide service into the box, but the overall quality of his crosses was all over the place. Defensively, Souquet made very few errors and also led the team in interceptions, poaching the ball from the opposition 6 times. Souquet also did play a ball into the box that would be bobbled around before being finished by Maren Haile-Selassie, however, it was called offsides.
Carlos Terán (6.5) – Carlos Terán earned the start over the recently returned Wyatt Omsberg as the Fire’s center-back option to pair Rafael Czichos and put in a solid shift. Terán was consistent in terms of his defensive efforts and made a handful of good tackles. The only area of concern came when Terán passed the ball directly into the midfield, however, nothing would result from it from a flat NYCFC front line.
Rafa Czichos (7) – Overall, it was a fairly quiet night for the club captain. Czichos would hold an 87.7 accurate pass percentage and would make 2 tackles. One of the tackles was a notable last-minute block early into the game, which very much could have ended in a quality scoring opportunity if the German was not present
Miguel Ángel Navarro (5.5) – With a few rumors floating around prior to the season about the Fire shopping around for another left-back, this is not the performance Miguel Navarro would have hoped for. The defender was flat once again going forward, with 17 of his 27 total passes being back into the Fire’s defensive zone. The left-back would then be caught off guard by NYCFC winger Gabriel Pereira when the ball would bounce underneath his arm, with Pereira then settling the ball and curling it to the back post with little interference from Navarro. The goal was reviewed by VAR and would stand, and even though the decision would be booed by all of Soldier Field, you simply have to play until the whistle there.
Fede Navarro (NR) – The designated player would be subbed off in the 14th minute following an injury and did not have the opportunity to do enough for a proper rating.
Jairo Torres (7) – Torres would find himself starting as Fede Navarro’s duel pivot partner in the midfield and would put in a solid performance in his favored position. Offering a slightly different profile than last season’s common starting choice of Gastón Giménez, Jairo would often take the ball on the turn and get the attack going. Despite his clear improvement upon his performances last season, Torres would be subbed off due to injury in the 3rd minute of extra time in the first half.
Chris Mueller (6) – Many Fire fans predicted that Chris Mueller would have a team MVP quality season this year, however, this game was a night that the winger will want to put past him. With a select amount of his dribbles being successful (2 out of 6 attempted), Mueller did not show the attacking prowess he often has in the past, but this could be partially down to still having to adapt to the inverted winger system Ezra Hendrickson wants to implement on the pitch. Mueller would be substituted at the 64th minute due to injury concerns.
Xherdan Shaqiri (5) – My oh my. In one of his worst games for the Fire, Xherdan Shaqiri consistently gave poor passes to his teammates and extremely inconsistent dead ball service, with one of his corners notably hitting the side of the netting. In terms of defensive effort, Shaq’s press was nowhere near intense enough to force any major errors from the NYCFC players. With very little to offer going forward in the first half, Shaqiri never grew into the game later on either. Shaqiri would take 3 shots of the Fire’s total 9, with none of them being on target.
Brian Gutiérrez (6.5) – The homegrown would struggle as well to consistently get past the NYCFC defense out wide on the right, but again with Ezra’s choice to invert his wingers, this could simply be down to growing pains. Despite the struggles here and there, Guti would link up well following the overlaps by Arnaud Souquet on the right side, and once Guti can hit a better streak of form, this could be a very dangerous combination.
Kacper Pryzbyłko (5) – Ezra would stick to his guns and start Pryzbyłko despite the two recent additions to the squad’s striker pool. It was more of the same for Kacper, as he never really did much to challenge the NYCFC backline, except for a play where he would be fed a through ball going onto goal, where he would dice up two defenders and… send the ball into the stands. Kacper would be subbed off at halftime.
Mauricio Pineda (7) – Coming on for Federico Navarro in the 14th minute of play, Pineda would do well to keep the engine of the team going, posting a 95.3% pass accuracy and having 21 accurate passes into forward zones. Pineda would match well with any of the three other midfielders he would partner in the team’s pivot midfield and is a good choice to start next weekend against the Philadelphia Union given his incredibly high passing numbers and overall work ethic.
Fabian Herbers (7.5) – Herbers was originally substituted on as a fill-in center midfielder in the 3rd minute of extra time in the first half of the game for Jairo Torres. Gastón Giménez, who would have been expected to come on for Torres originally, would be substituted on in the 64th minute, thus moving Herbers out wide to play as a right-winger for then departing Brian Gutierez. Herbers would be a noticeable change of energy for the Fire out on the right, consistently linking up well with Arnaud Souquet and Kei Kamara and proving to be a dangerous opponent for the NYCFC backline, eventually scoring the equalizer off a hard shot that would deflect off of forward Talles-Magno and end up in the net at the 75th minute.
Kei Kamara (7) – In his debut for the club, Kamara would be subbed on for Kacper Pryzbylko at halftime. Kamara would lead the team in total duels with 18, however, he would only win 25% of them. Despite that, Kamara brought much-needed energy to the striker position, and consistently dropped back into the midfield or fell out wide to create space for his teammates and help with the buildup play. Kamara would have 2 total shots with neither falling on target.
Maren Haile-Selassie (6) – Another debutant for the Fire, Swiss winger Maren Haile-Selassie was subbed on for Chris Mueller in the 64th minute. Haile-Selassie would make several good runs into space on the wings, but his overall cross quality was lacking. Haile-Selassie would score in the 83rd minute, but the goal was overturned by VAR because of previous influence on the play by an offsides player.
Gastón Giménez (7) – Due to an injury sustained during the team’s preseason, Gastón would be limited to playing only about 30 minutes of action, being subbed on in the 64th minute of play. Now without his designated player tag, Giménez would do well to disrupt NYCFC’s possession-based playstyle. With it being unknown how long either Fede Navarro or Jairo Torres could be sidelined for, expect Gastón to take back his starting position in the midfield for now.
Ezra Hendrickson (7) – Given the players available to him, Ezra provided a lineup that most Fire fans and MLS neutrals would have expected (barring the inclusion of Spencer Richey). The team was fairly flat during long stretches of the game and it appears the implementation of playing with inverted wingers still needs time to flourish, however, the subs made by Ezra did change the overall quality present on the pitch. The decision to substitute pretty much every player in front of the back four besides Shaqiri worked well enough, as there was a noticeable change in attacking pace and quality when going forward, but it would only amount to the equalizer. The only notedly questionable decision made by Ezra was to leave Shaqiri on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, but given he is a designated player and historically does have the ability to change a game in a single moment, we can let that one slide.