A few months ago, a popular Premier League YouTuber challenged his followers to build a best XI for their club using one player from each season. While this was intended to be geared towards the Premiership, fans from different countries took the opportunity to apply this exercise for their own clubs.
From 2013 to 2023, pick your club's best XI using one player per year.
— The Irish Guy (@the_irishguy) May 15, 2023
The Chicago Fire may have had a tumultuous decade for the most part, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of great players representing the club over the years. Here is a Fire XI, using just one player per season, of course in the 4-2-3-1 formation…
Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson (2014)
The goalkeeping position has been one of trouble for most of the last decade, but while homegrowns Gaga Slonina and Chris Brady have been a breath of fresh air over the last two years, it’s Sean Johnson who will get the nod for this team. The years from 2014 to 2016 were truly the Fire’s dark ages as they languished at the bottom of the table, and Johnson was a rare bright spot during that era.
In that 2014 season, the then-25-year-old continued his ascent towards becoming one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, and was named team MVP. Though he only recorded six clean sheets that year, it also came down to an incredibly poor team around him, which was led by head coach Frank Yallop. The Fire only won six games, and totalled an unbelievable 18 draws in the 34-game season.
With a better team and particularly defense in front of him, Johnson’s last few seasons in Chicago would have been remembered even more fondly, and thanks to a combination of a lack of other options and what he’s accomplished throughout his career, he slides right into the team in goal.
Left back: Brandon Vincent (2018)
One of the biggest “what-if” stories with the Fire will always be Brandon Vincent. The extremely talented full back had high expectations as Nelson Rodríguez gave up future Premier League star Jack Harrison in order to acquire him in 2016, but he certainly made a name for himself, quickly earning a USMNT call up and an MLS All-Star appearance. It’s very likely that had things panned out differently, he could have been a future national team regular and moved on to Europe at some point.
Unfortunately, things didn’t happen that way; 2018 turned out to be his last season in professional soccer as he made the decision to retire after just three years in the league. His last year was not a memorable one for the Fire; the team once against finished second from bottom, enduring a months-long hangover from the 2017 season that saw the team finish third in the regular season standings. Vincent had one goal and three assists from full back, nothing too crazy, but still enough to make him one of the Fire’s better players that season.
Truthfully, Vincent is the only top left back the Fire have had over the last decade, so it’s a no-brainer that he makes his way into this team. 2018 wasn’t his best season, but almost everyone not named Bastian Schweinsteiger had a pretty miserable year, so that isn’t anything crazy.
Center back: Rafa Czichos (2022)
There is not a shortage of options to choose from when it comes to center back, as there have been quite a few solid contributors there over the last few years. Rafa Czichos has been a revelation at the heart of the backline since his arrival ahead of last season, and he arguably played to an All-Star level for large parts of the year. His form in 2022 has continued into this season, and he has been an ever-reliable presence at left center back, maintaining the level he held when he played in the Bundesliga.
What has made Czichos so good is not just his capacity to impact a game both defensively and with his top-tier passing out of the back, but also his ability to consistently turn up in big games and big moments. In 2022, he scored a game-winner against the then-newly minted CCL champion Seattle Sounders and the decisive goal as the Fire won at Vancouver for the first time ever. This year, he scored the winner in the all-important MLS meeting with St. Louis, and also scored the deciding goal in the Open Cup round of 16 win over Austin.
Few center backs have come into MLS and immediately looked as good as Czichos, so he easily slots into this team as the left footed defender. The German has all the makings of a future Chicago legend, and while he is 33 years old, he’ll be locking down the back line for years to come.
Center back: Mauricio Pineda (2023)
Despite the aforementioned array of contenders to take the center back spots, it’s ultimately this season’s 2023 duo that makes up the heart of the defensive four. Alongside fellow homegrown Brian Gutiérrez, Mauricio Pineda has been the Fire’s player of the season so far, and has made the right center back position his own ever since Frank Klopas moved him there from central midfield when he took over in May. Under previous head coach Ezra Hendrickson, Pineda rarely played, and when he did, it was in central midfield, but he’s been thriving in a more defensive role.
Since the managerial change, Pineda has started all but two of the Fire’s matches. He’s been an essential part of the good form since the June international break, in which the Fire have won six out of seven matches against MLS opponents, and has turned up in big moments, most notably his game-winning assist in the 83rd minute against Minnesota United and man of the match showing against Nashville in a 1-0 win.
The current version of Pineda, who has looked like a man reborn since being moved back to his best position in the Spring, is one of the most effective ball-playing center backs in the league, and has the material of a future Fire captain.
Right back: Matt Polster (2015)
With the right back selection, we return to the Fire’s dark ages, albeit with a player who was one of the best during that period, and had many brighter days in the red shirt. Matt Polster was the right back from 2015 to 2018, but hasn’t quite been fully replaced since then, though he did set a high bar. Since leaving, Polster has gone on to be an integral part of the New England Revolution team that won the Supporter’s Shield and broke the regular season points record.
2015 was Polster’s rookie season in MLS, as he was drafted as the 7th overall pick in the SuperDraft. He broke into the starting XI by the third week of the season, immediately looking like he fit in at the MLS level, but the Fire were terrible, and claimed the wooden spoon as they finished dead-last in the entire league. Polster played a combination of defensive midfield and right back throughout the year, though it was at the latter position where the American played for the entirety of the famous 2017 season.
Polster is undoubtedly one of the more talented domestic players to have passed through Chicago over the past decade, and considering that his successors Brandt Bronico, Johan Kappelhof, Boris Sekulić, and Arnaud Souquet have never quite set the world alight, it’s an easy pick.
Central midfield: Álvaro Medran (2021)
2021 was not a particularly good season for the Fire by any means; they were out of the playoff race by early summer, and Rafa Wicky was sacked in September as the Fire finished 14 points below the line. However, one area they were quite abnormally good that year was in the heart of midfield. Luka Stojanović was the best player that season, scoring eight goals as a #10, Fede Navarro arrived midway through and immediately looked like a solid addition, and Gastón Giménez was there as well. The man who makes this team, though, is Álvaro Medran, whose second and final season with the Fire was a relatively impressive one.
Even when the team around him was nothing spectacular, Medran showed flashes of the quality that once made him a Real Madrid squad member. He was one of the best central midfielders in the league, and combined his six assists with three goals as well. Though naturally an attacking midfielder, Medran played in the double pivot, with Stojanović playing in the more advanced role. The Spaniard was the final signing of the Veljko Paunović era – a parting gift for the next administration – but he truly stood out in his two seasons, even though they were two of the most forgettable in club history.
With such a creative presence in the middle of the park, Medran proves an important addition to this lineup, and when surrounded by as many standouts as the XI has, he’ll look at his best.
Central midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger (2019)
Bastian Schweinsteiger is almost certainly the greatest player to don a Fire uniform since Hristo Stoichkov, if not ever, so it would be silly if he didn’t find his way into this eleven. Basti goes down as one of the most gifted and consistent central midfielders of his generation having helped Germany to reach every major semifinal during his time with the national team and lift the World Cup in 2014 (though he couldn’t repeat the feat in Chicago).
Schweinsteiger actually spent a major portion of the 2019 season at center back, where he was named the Fire’s defensive player of the year. The Fire narrowly missed the playoffs by just three points, but it was not a terrible season relative to most of the past decade, and some bad luck is ultimately what doomed Paunović’s team to failure in what was ultimately Basti’s last season as a pro. In addition to the experience and stability he brought to the defensive group, Schweinsteiger scored a big winning goal against the Montréal Impact late in the summer which kept playoff hopes alive.
It’s tough to top one of the most respected midfielders of the last twenty years, so Basti easily makes his way onto this team; an incredibly talented player and a model professional, he’s the kind of player any coach would dream of.
Left winger: Djordje Mihailovic (2020)
The 2020 MLS season was the most bizarre in league history, and it was a weird one for the Fire as well. It was the debut of the infamous “Fire crown” logo and the first season of the major rebuild under Georg Heitz and Sebastian Pelzer. One of the few holdovers from the previous era was homegrown Djordje Mihailovic, who played his best Fire season in 2020, even as the team struggled to climb out of the league’s cellar under Rafa Wicky.
When Djordje was signed in 2017, he was seen as one of the top young American talents in his age group, but it took some time for him to work his way back into the starting XI regularly after an ACL injury kept him out for most of 2018. 2020 was the year he came into his own, leading the team in assists with eight whilst adding two goals in just 18 MLS appearances. Djordje did all that mostly playing on the wing, which was not his preferred position, but still somehow couldn’t earn the full trust of the sporting staff, which resulted in his trade request at the end of the season. Since leaving, he proved himself to be one of the top players in MLS before making the jump to Europe.
As one of the most talented homegrowns in Fire history, it is a simple choice to include him in this team, even if that 2020 season just served as a platform to accomplish what he now has elsewhere.
Attacking midfield: Mike Magee (2013)
The Chicago Fire may have missed the playoffs in 2013, but that didn’t stop Mike Magee from, incredibly, winning the league’s MVP award at the end of the season. Magee is the only player in the history of the club to ever earn that distinction, which is a particularly mind-blowing statistic when you consider all of the amazing seasons that the Fire have had over the yearsm especially early on.
The remarkable feat was fueled by a career year in which Magee notched 18 goals and four assists in all competitions, even as the Fire finished below the line on goal difference. Excluding a short dry-spell in August, Magee scored in all but six of the matches he appeared in. Unfortunately, the Chicago native couldn’t replicate his 2013 season in subsequent years; he scored just seven times in 2014, and couldn’t even score once in 2015 before he left the club for the L.A. Galaxy.
Some may call Magee a one-season wonder, but his 2013 version was so impactful that it is impossible not to include him as a part of this team, even in a withdrawn role below the striker. At his best, he was one of the top players in MLS, and luckily it came in a Chicago Fire uniform.
Right winger: David Accam (2016)
The Fire once again finished dead last in MLS in 2016, claiming their second successive wooden spoon, but in some ways it was a season that laid the groundwork for the impressive 2017 campaign. The standout player was none other than David Accam, who won both the team’s Player of the Year and Golden Boot awards, often whilst wearing the captain’s armband. The Ghanaian, at his best from 2015 to 2017, was one of the Fire’s best players of recent history.
2016 was Paunović’s first season as head coach, and it was nothing but a rebuilding year. Nonetheless, Accam still had a strong season, scoring nine and assisting two, which was enough for him to remain as a DP for 2017. In the year that followed, he was at an MVP level, and would lead the Fire to their best season of the last decade, but he was still quite good with a rather limited supporting cast in 2016.
The brightest attacking star of the dark ages in the mid-2010s, it’s a no-brainer that Accam should enter this lineup. It’s a shame he’s currently without a club at 32, because at his best, he was a joy to watch in MLS.
Center forward: Nemanja Nikolić (2017)
Only one Chicago Fire player has ever won the Golden Boot in MLS history, and that was Nemanja Nikolić in 2017. Several great nines have worn the red uniform over the past 25 years, but none had a season better than Niko did for Paunović’s team six years ago. Scoring 24 goals made him a very real contender for MVP, though he would miss out, finishing third place behind Diego Valeri and David Villa.
The version of Niko that took the league by storm in 2017 will forever go down as one of the greatest players in the Fire’s history. He couldn’t quite match his production come 2018 and 2019, while he was still very good, but if surrounded by the talented players in this eleven, there’s no telling how many goals he could score. Niko ended up retiring a few months ago, but his legacy is as one of the great Hungarian strikers of the modern era and one of the most phenomenal differencemakers in MLS as well.
2017 was an unforgettable season for the Fire, but Nikolić was so good, that he’s the first name of this team sheet, regardless of how lights out nearly everyone on that roster was. He reached new heights, and pushed the team as far as they could go in the regular season, even if the early playoff exit was a disappointment.
It was an unintended consequence of this XI that only three of the players were Designated Players, and when scanning the roster, it becomes apparent that this theoretical lineup would fit within MLS’ roster restrictions if the players were given the same contracts that they had in each season. Nonetheless, it would be a contender to win MLS Cup and likely could compete with just about anyone in league history. Please let us know what changes you would make, and be sure to tweet us with your XIs!