After taking three points off of previously second-place Nashville FC, the Fire hosted CF Montréal looking to swap places with them in the table in order to get into a solid position for playoff contention. A Brian Gutiérrez goal nine minutes in, paired with another tally from Maren Haile-Selassie two minutes later, set the tone for the rest of the match, and although Montréal dominated possession, a Xherdan Shaqiri banger made sure that any fight put up by the Montrealers was going to be to no avail. 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
Chris Brady (8) – With back-to-back clean sheets for the first time this season, Brady’s contribution came down to four great saves to keep Montréal from finding the back of the net despite their 1.8 expected goals and 62% possession. Ironically, Brady’s most memorable moment (at least in my eyes) came when he cleared the ball up to Brian Gutiérrez and Georgios Koutsias, who together combined for the match’s opener. His early season mistakes are clearly long forgotten.
Miguel Ángel Navarro (7.5) – Miggy had another quality showing in defense. Navarro entered into nine duels, winning 71.4% of them, and somehow every single time I see the Venezuelan about to enter into a 50-50 challenge, I just know it is more likely than not that he wins a foul out of it winning two more in this match. If Major League Soccer had fouls suffered as one of their leadable statistics on their website, I think I know a guy in the top three.
Rafael Czichos (7) – Czichos got cut a bit of slack after giving away a cheap penalty to Ari Lassiter (so he could dink it off the post), but after that, the center back turned into his regular-solidified self. His defending was solid, and his leadership was clear as this backline got a deserved clean sheet, hopefully helping boost this defense’s confidence for the remainder of this season’s playoff push.
Mauricio Pineda (8.5) – Originally supposed to start in the midfield, Mauri was moved back to center back after Carlos Terán ran into some injury problems before kickoff. Once again, however, Pineda had an outstanding match, as he was a large factor in the team’s clean sheet. Pineda engaged in 11 duels and was a major reason why Montréal never found any flow inside the Fire’s 18-yard box. Great to see the former academy product find such a great spell of form!
Arnaud Souquet (7) – Returning from his suspension after missing the game against Nashville, Souquet had a solid outing against Montréal, defending well and looking comfortable in possession despite there typically being limited attacking options due to an overload in midfield by L’Impact. Despite playing well, Souquet was substituted for Jonathan Dean in the 67th minute.
Gastón Giménez (7) – Originally prepared to begin on the sidelines due to minor injury problems, Giménez ended up starting the match due to the injury concerns for Terán stemming from pre-game warm-ups. Gastón’s passing was great as he posted a 95% passing accuracy, also accurately completing all of his long balls. Likely due to Frank Klopas not wanting to take any fitness risks by playing Giménez too long, the midfielder was substituted for Jairo Torres in the 46th minute.
Fabian Herbers (7.5) – The Fire’s most in-form player at the moment returned to the starting XI as Giménez’s pivot partner, and although he failed to add to his current season tally of four goals, Herbers was locked in defensively in this match as he posted 11 duels, three tackles, and gave up zero fouls despite playing the full 90 minutes for a side with 38% possession. If the performances like this keep going at their current rate, a contract extension is fully deserved.
Brian Gutiérrez (8.5) – After notably not finishing well last game, Gutiérrez started the match against Montréal by scoring his first goal at Solider Field in the ninth minute thanks to Koutsias dancing through the defenders and crossing it back to the homegrown. Besides that, Guti was constantly running at a Montréal defense that was not being supported by its midfielders in the first half, which helped create a ton of attacking space. Gutiérrez was substituted in the 56th minute for Kei Kamara.
Xherdan Shaqiri (8) -Overdue for some goal contributions, Xherdan Shaqiri found some much-needed end product against Montréal after grabbing an assist and scoring a golazo of his own within the first half. His assist came from a layoff from a pass from Koutsias which ended up at the feet of Maren Haile-Selassie to make the score 2-0. The goal will likely be one of MLS’s weekly Puskas contenders, as a cheeky set-piece routine from the Fire concluded with Haile-Selassie laying the ball off to Shaq to laser into the top-right corner in the 33rd minute. If only we saw lethality of this level from the midfielder every week.
Maren Haile-Selassie (8.5) – Maren started this match with a bang, scoring in the 11th minute thanks to the collective effort of the Fire’s offense. Twenty-two minutes later, a combination between the Fire’s Swiss attackers saw Haile-Selassie credited with an assist after laying the ball off for Shaqiri to blast into the top-right corner to get the Fire up 3-0. Despite his creativity and the danger he brought down the right channel, Haile-Selassie was substituted for Alonso Aceves in the 67th minute.
Georgios Koutsias (9) – Starting as the Fire’s striker once again despite an uninspiring performance last match, Koutsias did not let another opportunity go to waste and instantly made an impact against Montréal. Koutsi assisted Gutiérrez’s opener by taking on George Campbell one-on-one and squaring it to his fellow youngster after beating the Montréal center back. Two minutes later, Koutsias beat George Campbell again and passed it to Xherdan Shaqiri who then laid it off for Maren Haile-Selassie to bury. Koutsias was eventually substituted in the 76th minute for the senior debut of Missael Rodríguez.
Jairo Torres (6.5) – Coming on for the previously injury-stricken Giménez in the 46th minute, Jairo returned to his preferred spot as a central midfielder. Although he played the entirety of the second half, Torres did not leave much of an impression in this match, but that is likely down to Montréal’s ability to keep long spells of possession.
Kei Kamara (6.5) – Kei came on in the 56th minute as a replacement for Gutiérrez as he was looking to find his record-setting 144th goal in Major League Soccer, but ultimately was unable to make much of an impact offensively in an attack that was free-flowing in the first half. Kei did bring some presence up top, though, entering nine duels and winning three fouls for the Fire.
Jonathan Dean (6.5) – Dean appeared as a substitute for Souquet in the 67th minute. After a solid performance against Nashville, Dean was good once again, and although he did not have any mentionable moments, the fullback did help maintain an important clean sheet.
Alonso Aceves (6.5) – Subbing out Haile-Selassie in the 67th minute, Aceves got some time playing up-field as a winger. Earlier this season against the Chicago House, Aceves was immense out wide, but due to a variety of reasons such as an improvement in the talent of the opposition and only getting about 28 minutes of action, this was just another match under his belt for the Mexican.
Missael Rodríguez (6.5) – Making his Chicago Fire senior debut, Rodríguez came on as a sub for Koutsias in the 76th minute. Missa moved out to play as the Fire’s right-winger and looked energetic and eager to get involved. Although offensively, nothing major came out of his performance, he did hustle back on defense, completing a tackle and engaging in eight duels despite only playing about 19 minutes. With Kacper Przybyłko crawling towards an exit from Chicago, here is to hoping we see Missa earn more minutes this season!
Frank Klopas (8) – Although Klopas’ preferred starting XI had to be altered due to an injury to Carlos Téran in the match’s pre-game preparations, moving Mauricio Pineda back into the defense was definitely the best choice possible, and that is supported by the clean sheet earned by the Fire. Winning possession battles is not a characteristic of this team, and this was no exception, but this team simply has not looked this good on the counter before. The decision to keep Georgios Koutsias in the starting group was a good call, and the subs ensured that the win was followed through with, which is a night-and-day difference in comparison to earlier this season. Many argued that sacking Ezra and replacing him with Klopas for the rest of the season was a mistake, however, that argument continues to burn out game after game.