Sometimes, you just need one magical moment to turn a season around.
The Chicago Fire have had a rough start to 2023, but they finally earned their first win of 2023 as they stunned Inter Miami in South Florida, 3-2. After witnessing a two-goal lead dissipate for the second week running, things seemed bleak, but a beautiful sequence in stoppage time involving some teenage homegrowns and an MLS legend secured three points for the Men in Red.
Entering the match, Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson made two changes to the Fire eleven that drew Cincinnati a week prior. Fabian Herbers returned to the lineup after his suspension, replacing Mauricio Pineda in midfield, while Jonathan Dean stepped in for Miguel Navarro, who is out on international duty with Venezuela. The dynamic trio of Chris Mueller, Brian Gutiérrez, and Maren Haile-Selassie lined up behind Kacper Przybyłko in the attack after an impressive attacking display last time out.
Playing in the 80° Florida heat, the match got off to a slow start. Neither team could really threaten the other’s keeper for the majority of the opening half-hour, though 19-year-old Fire starter Chris Brady did have to make a few good saves. Inter Miami, who were also missing numerous players including Josef Martínez and Leonardo Campana, looked ineffective going forward, and their attack could not create much in the opening period.
The breakthrough came after 30 minutes. Maren Haile-Selassie, who kept the starting job after an impressive performance against Cincy, played the ball through to 19-year-old Brian Gutiérrez. Guti was starting as a #10 for the second successive match in the absence of Xherdan Shaqiri, and he has been thriving in that role. Guti drilled a ball across the box and found the run of Chris Mueller, who scored the make it 1-0. It was a beautiful finish and yet another signature moment for the winger who now leads the team in goals this season.
Just a few minutes later, the lead was extended to two. Center back Carlos Terán got on the end of a scramble in the penalty box, and smashed the ball in from an incredibly difficult angle. The Colombian – who has been catching the eye of his national team coach in recent months – notched his third career MLS goal, and continued his strong start to 2023.
Miami got one back before the half, though. A beautiful ball from Jean Mota found left-back Franco Negri at the far post, who had an opportunity one-on-one with Arnaud Souquet. The Fire’s French #2 was put in a tricky spot thanks to a great touch by Negri, but he was still rinsed by his opponent, who hit the ball into the far corner with the outside of his foot. There was nothing Brady could do about it.
Around the hour mark, the Fire were forced into some changes. Just moments into the second half, Gastón Giménez came off and was replaced by Pineda. In the 63rd minute, Herbers pulled up with a cramp, while Souquet and Przybyłko also made way. Javi Casas entered in central midfield for his second appearance of the season, with Kei Kamara and Kendall Burks being introduced as the other substitutes. This was not a good look for Souquet, who had a poor performance once again and could very well lose the starting job next time out.
In the second half, it was all Inter Miami. The Fire were clinging on for dear life, and shifted to a back five with the introduction of Alonso Aceves for his MLS debut in the 75th minute. Moments later, a defensive miscommunication allowed Nicolás Stefanelli to find the equalizer. For the second week running, the Fire had let a two-goal lead slip. Needless to saw, when the Fire seemed to be trudging towards another gut-wrenching draw, an unlikely combination of heroes stepped up.
Casas, who is yet to make a meaningful impact since his promotion to the first team three years ago, picked up the ball in midfield as the Fire looked to launch a counterattack. He found his longtime team-mate, Brian Gutiérrez, who drove forward towards the panicking Miami back line and drew five defenders his way. Miami’s desperate attempt to contain the budding superstar resulted in him being quintuple teamed, leaving Kei Kamara wide open on the left side. Guti made the final pass look easy, and the league’s leading active scorer did what he does best.
“It felt so much bigger than me scoring that goal,” Kamara told the media after the match. “It gives us a lot of belief that what we’ve been working on is paying off!”
The Chicago Fire will return to Soldier Field to face D.C. United next Saturday at 7:30 pm CT.