The Chicago Fire are still looking to catch some momentum this season, and they will have to opportunity to pick up an important three points when they take on Minnesota United this Saturday. Three potential starters are inching closer to a return to fitness, while a new arrival from across the Atlantic will further bolster the squad heading into this weekend. In addition, the Academy put in some strong performances at a prestigious tournament in Florida. We’ll be looking at all these stories in today’s notebook.
Koutsias arrives in Chicago
It’s been over a month since the Fire announced the signing of 19-year-old Greek center forward Georgios Koutsias, and he has finally arrived in the Windy City this week. Koutsias needed to acquire a visa to come to the United States, and he has finally received it. He will now be available for selection in MLS, with the Fire taking on Minnesota United this weekend.
“He’s a very good player,” Ezra Hendrickson told the media on Wednesday. “He has a nose for the goal… his holdup play and movement off the ball everything we saw when we were scouting him, we’re seeing here in training. We’re very happy that he’s here, that he’s healthy and ready to go.”
Koutsias won’t start against Minnesota on Saturday, but there’s a chance that he could see the field. The number 9 position will be a very intriguing storyline to follow over the next few weeks, with veterans Kacper Przybyłko and Kei Kamara both competing with Koutsias. Missael Rodríguez has continued his development with Fire II, and Victor Bezerra remains on the roster. Furthermore, the MLS Primary Transfer Window is still open for another month, and the Fire are still evaluating possible targets for a DP striker, which would further complicate things.
“As of right now, we only have four [strikers],” says Ezra. “There’s no DP striker here right now, Bezerra’s injured, so it’s just Kacper, Kei, Koutsias, and Missa. Only one can play at a time, there are going to be some games where we feature two forwards, but as of now, it’s all about competition, about who’s playing the best in games and in training. It’s what we want, we want competition, we don’t think it’s too much competition. It’s very clear to everyone that whoever’s in the best form, best shape, playing the best, producing the most will be featured.”
Shaqiri, Torres, and Navarro updates
The Fire have had some decent performances over the last few weeks, including their first win of the season against Inter Miami in week 5. They’ve been doing it without three key starters; both DPs, Xherdan Shaqiri and Jairo Torres, as well as prominent U22 midfielder Federico Navarro. While Navarro and Torres will still be out this weekend, they are working towards a return and could be back as soon as next week. Shaqiri’s availability is still up in the air, but there is a good chance he will return against Minnesota in some capacity.
“Shaq is a possibility [for this weekend],” says Ezra. “It’s likely, but it’s not a for-sure thing just yet… we want to make sure we get him back to as close to 100% as possible and not risk any further injuries, but he makes us a better team.”
Navarro’s return is perhaps the most important of the three. The midfield has been significantly worse without him, and the double pivot of Gastón Giménez and Fabian Herbers has struggled to control matches. Shaqiri will also be a welcome reintroduction to the squad; while he hasn’t been at his best recently, and homegrown Brian Gutiérrez has been thriving in his place, the experience and quality he brings when he is in form are unquestioned.
Academy competes at GA Cup
Over the last week, the Chicago Fire Academy have been competing at the Generation Adidas Cup, a competition in which MLS Next teams take on several of the best academies in the world. The Chicago Fire U15 team, unfortunately, came up just short in the Round of 16 today, following a 1-0 defeat to Rayados. Oscar Pineda, the younger brother of Fire homegrown midfielder Mauricio Pineda, started in midfield and has been a standout for that team this season.
“It’s been fun watching them,” says Mauricio. “It’s been fun watching him since he was young, playing at such a high level at such a young age, and right now he’s doing really well. It’s a super exciting tournament, teams from all over, and of course, all of the MLS teams are there. It’s an amazing experience for them all, and I’m happy they made it out of the group stage.”
Though they were eliminated, the Fire’s academy teams have consistently been able to compete at a high level over the last few years. The U15s went as far as they did in the tournament without the best player in their age group, talented center-back Christopher Cupps, who was playing up with the U17s. Midfielder Liam Healey, defender Chase Nagle, and forward Parker Amoo-Mensah also had strong tournaments.