Chicago Fire miss out on MLS Cup playoffs once again 

There were high expectations for the 2022 MLS season in Chicago. The arrival of two-time Champions League winner Xherdan Shaqiri from French giants Lyon only added to those expectations. And it seemed as though the predictions weren’t misplaced. The Fire went unbeaten in their first five games of the new campaign, winning two, drawing three, and securing an impressive position in the Eastern Conference earlier in the year. But as head coach Ezra Hendrickson found out, the Major League Soccer campaign is long and arduous. An important victory over Inter Miami in early September looked as though slim hopes of playoff qualification were still alive, but those post-season hopes were all but extinguished with back-to-back 3-2 defeats to Montreal and Charlotte. 

The Fire has managed to qualify for the playoffs just once in the last ten years, way back in 2017. Not many teams in the division have endured a worse run over the last decade, and surely things must change if they are to return to their success of the late noughties. In 2007, 2008, and 2009, the Chicago Fire reached the semifinals of the MLS Cup on every occasion. Each time, however, heartbreak awaited the second city side, and none more so than in 2009, when they suffered penalty shootout defeat against Real Salt Lake.

Impotence in Attack 

It’s been clear for all to see where the Fire’s problems lie this season: in attack. Only Wayne Rooney’s rock-bottom DC United scored fewer goals than Chicago this season, who had a paltry total of 39 goals in 34 regular season games. And even that measly total is padded somewhat, as Hendrickson’s side managed 11 goals in their final five games when the season was all but over. German strikers Kacper Przybyłko and Fabian Herbers managed just six goals between them in a combined 50 appearances. 


Now, compare that strikeforce to the one of the three-time Fire semifinalists. Back then, Mexican legend Cuauhtémoc Blanco led the line alongside one of the English Premier League’s first American stars, Brian McBride. The double act was one of the most feared in the MLS and their goals were crucial to the Fire’s success. As well as that, their all-round quality opened the game up for wingers Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko to make their mark. Of course, this term, Shaqiri has been the star man cutting inside from the right wing and finding the net on seven occasions as well as providing six assists. But the Swiss international cannot do it all by himself, and a supporting cast must be supplied to him if the Fire is to reach the playoffs next season. 

What can we expect from next season? 

The 2023 MLS season will get underway next February, which gives the Fire an ample amount of time to strengthen their squad, regroup and go again. Before that, however, there is the small matter of the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Shaqiri will of course be in attendance alongside his Switzerland teammates, and it remains to be seen whether the huge amount of matches that he has played over the last twelve months will affect him long-term. The former Liverpool and Bayern Munich man turned 31 on October 10th, and whether his body can handle the demands of the modern game as well as it once could remains to be seen. 

Another thing we can expect is the continued development of 18-year-old striker Jhon Durán. The Colombian enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2022, top scoring for the Fire with eight goals in 27 appearances. His form prompted his national team head coach Néstor Lorenzo to give him his first two international caps despite his tender years, and many of Chicago’s hopes will be pinned on the youngster next season. The Soldier Field faithful will be hoping that his budding partnership with Shaqiri continues to blossom in 2023.

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