Chicago Fire – Match Report vs. New York Red Bulls (30/04/2022)

The Chicago Fire fell 2-1 at home to New York Red Bulls in MLS action. There was a lengthy delay just before halftime due to lightning strikes in the area. When the players returned to the pitch there was quite a lot of water on the pitch which slowed the ball down a little bit. Chicago struggled to bypass the NYRB press, being heavily out-possessed and outshot. Chicago played in a fairly standard 4-2-3-1 while NYRB switched things up and went for a 4-4-2. Chicago finished the match with 9 players after Jhon Duran and Rafael Czichos were both sent off for second bookable offences. 

Ratings:

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level
  • B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
  • C – Average for level, re-watch
  • D – Below average in this match

Gabriel Slonina

  • Nationality: American/Polish 
  • Age: 17
  • Date of Birth: 15/05/2004
  • Current Club: Chicago Fire
  • Career: Chicago Fire
  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Gabriel Slonina has burst onto the scene in the last year and a half, claiming the #1 spot for Chicago Fire and playing very well as a teenager. In this match, he showed some decent shot-stopping and distribution but struggled a little bit with claiming crosses. The Red Bulls play a super aggressive pressing style so Slonina was under pressure frequently when he had the ball at his feet. He had a couple of moments where he was able to pass out under pressure. When he chose to play long passes he was not always the most accurate but he was generally striking the ball well and doing a good job of putting it into the right areas where his teammates could compete for the ball. He also had one very impressive throw where he was able to hit a teammate in space around the halfway line (that teammate then made a mess of it but you can’t blame Slonina for that).

Slonina also showed some good shot-stopping ability. He was not exactly peppered with shots in this game but he made one very good close-range save on Tom Barlow and did well to handle a few long-range shots that were bouncing. It was hard to blame him for either goal. Perhaps he could have been set a little better on the first goal but it would be harsh to say he should have stopped it. One area Slonina struggled with was crosses. For the most part, Slonina has a good sense of when to leave his line and when to stay put. There was only one moment where I thought he definitely should have come to claim a ball but stayed put. However, when he does come for the ball he does not always look convincing.

He often chooses to punch the ball and does not always get the most distance on those punches. There were two situations where he did not get sufficient distance on a diving punch and if the ball had bounced a bit less kindly, a Red Bull player could have easily slotted the ball into a wide-open goal. We have to remember that Slonina is only 17, so it’s to be expected that there are some growing pains when it comes to dealing with crosses, but this is probably the area of his game that is holding him back the most at this point. 

Rating: A2

Slonina is not without his faults, but what 17 year old is? His shot-stopping is already really good and he has decent distribution. He struggles with crosses but I think the fact that his decisions to come for the ball are pretty good is a positive sign for his ability to improve in that area. There is a tendency for American prospects to get a bit overhyped online but I think Slonina is the real deal. MLS is probably still the best place for him for the next year or two but the fact that he is already this good at 17 suggests to me that he can hit extremely high heights. Snatching him up now would be a good investment for just about any team in Europe’s top five leagues. 

Jhon Duran

  • Nationality: Colombian 
  • Age: 18
  • Date of Birth: 13/12/2003
  • Current Club: Chicago Fire
  • Career: Envigado, Chicago Fire
  • Position: Striker
  • Preferred Foot: Left

Jhon Duran managed to get himself sent off in this game but he still showed some good moments. Duran did a good job of stretching the backline with his runs. Chicago was often forced to play long balls over the top due to NYRB’s pressing system. As such Duran spent a lot of the game chasing balls in behind the Red Bull defence. He managed to pull off one very nice shot where he made a run between the centre-backs, brought the ball down, but couldn’t squeeze it past Coronel in goal. He wasn’t really able to get on any other long balls but he continued to do the thankless task of chasing them down and did his best to give Red Bull defenders a hard time.

Duran is not the strongest player of all time, he is only 18, but he did not back out of any challenges, and sometimes things worked out for him. His touch was a little bit inconsistent. There were some great touches to bring the ball down and to dribble in tight spaces but there were also times when his first touch let him down under pressure. If there was one thing that Duran struggled with it was situational awareness. There were at least three times where he came deep to get the ball and then played a pass to a spot where there wasn’t a remotely nearby Chicago player. It was pretty surprising that this kept happening. I can only assume that he needs to do a better job of scanning the field, I will look out for that in future viewings. His off-the-ball runs were also a bit lacking in creativity. There was one moment that particularly stood out when Miguel Navarro delivered a tantalising cross but Duran was nowhere near it (neither was Chinonoso Offor, but more on that later). He didn’t really make a run in any direction, he just kind of gently jogged into the penalty area.

If he’s going to be a dangerous scorer at the MLS level then he will have to get a lot more dangerous with those runs. Of course, there was also the red card. The sending-off was quite harsh in my opinion but when you are on a yellow card you can’t give a referee a reason to give you another one. When he pushed over a Red Bull player while battling for a ball he did just that. In a way it was karma because in the first half he dove recklessly into a sliding tackle when there was no real reason to do so, that certainly would have gotten him into trouble had he connected. 

Rating: B2

Duran certainly showed some flashes in this game and, all things considered, he did quite well with his team struggling to get through the NYRB press. But his decision-making and situational awareness are going to have to improve a lot if he is going to take the next step. Fortunately, at 18, he has a lot of time to improve. 

Brian Gutierrez

  • Nationality: American 
  • Age: 18
  • Date of Birth: 17/06/2003
  • Current club: Chicago Fire
  • Career: Chicago Fire 
  • Position: Left Winger
  • Secondary Position: Attacking Midfielder, Right Winger
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Brian Gutierrez struggled to get anything going in this match. In the first half particularly, he just did not look dangerous. His first touch was often heavy and he spent a lot of time dribbling backward after his progress was halted by an opposing defender. His crosses, on the rare occasions he was able to get one off, were poor. In the second half, he did show a bit more of the dribbling ability that has allowed him to break through as an MLS player. He had one fantastic run where he left a defender for dead, cut inside, and flashed a shot wide of the post.

There were also a couple of moments where he was able to get out of tricky situations with his dribbling in his own half but he didn’t have any other good offensive moments. He did a good job of helping out Chicago’s fullbacks with the defensive side of the game. He made a few key blocks and interventions and also did a decent job of closing down opponents. Later on, in the game, he was moved from the wing to the centre of midfield. He only played there for about 15 minutes but he did manage to pull off one eye-catching move where he dribbled around a player and then played a line-splitting progressive pass.

Considering he struggled so much to make things happen in the final 3rd, a centre midfield role or perhaps being converted to a wingback might make more sense for him than the wing in the long term. His ability to get out of dangerous situations and make a pass could be a real asset there, while his lack of offensive productivity would be less of an issue. Of course, he is still only 18 so there is lots of time to improve his attacking output. 

Rating: B2

Gutierrez has a strong base on which to build a solid game. But it’s still not totally clear what his best position will be in the long term. His skillset makes a switch to a deeper role interesting but time will tell if he can make the necessary adjustments to be a top player. 

Chinonso Offor

  • Nationality: Nigerian 
  • Age: 21
  • Date of Birth: 27/05/2000
  • Current Club: Chicago Fire
  • Career: Real Sapphire, Binatli YSK, Cighanger GSK, Daugavpils, RFS, Chicago Fire
  • Position: Striker
  • Secondary Position: Left Winger, Right Winger
  • Preferred Foot: Right

For a time, Offor was the poster boy for bad recruitment. Chicago dropped the equivalent of 760,000 Euros to sign Offor directly from the Latvian Virsliga. In his first MLS season, Offor struggled mightily with making the jump to MLS and managed only a goal and two assists while looking mightily out of his depth. This (match week 9) was his first start of the season. To his credit, he did show some flashes in this game. Particularly the physical side of his game looked very strong.

Offor was deployed as a winger, rather than as a centre-forward and he was able to bully NYRB’s fullbacks with his physicality. He won a ton of headers. on one occasion an NYRB player managed to get a foot on the ball but Offor simply knocked him over and kept on going. He also showed a few flashes of technical skill. He is credited with completing two dribbles in the match. He looked surprisingly slock on the ball, showing the ability to change direction quickly and beat a man. But some of the glaring flaws from last season were very much still there. Offor was a bit ponderous on the ball, sometimes missing opportunities to find players in space because he took too long to make a pass. He also could have had a goal if he had made a back post run on the Miguel Navarro cross that was mentioned in the Duran section. Offor still seems to be struggling to think at the speed required to be a successful player in MLS. 

Rating: C

The Target Scouting ratings don’t include “potential to be an average player” but if they did Offor would be that. If he can continue to throw his weight around to good effect and do some good dribbling then there is a useful player in there, though probably not one worth 760,000 Euros. His ability to make decisions quickly isn’t there and it seriously undercuts how dangerous he can be as an attacking player. He’s 21 so there is some time for him to grow still but at the end of the day, I would be shocked if he ever makes it to a level higher than MLS, or is talked about as one of the best players in the league. He might be a good player at a slightly lower level, you can definitely see how he was able to score so many goals in a country like Latvia, but I think MLS stardom is beyond his grasp. 

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