Jhon Duran sparks Fire to 2-0 victory over Toronto FC

After waiting for his chance to start, striker Jhon Duran is showing why he’s an internationally known prospect. His athleticism, speed and strength have stood out since he was added to the starting lineup, all of which are starkly different attributes than what benched Kacper Przybylko was bringing to the Fire.

Unfortunately for the Fire, Duran’s emergence is probably way too late to save their season.

Duran scored both goals in the Fire’s 2-0 win Wednesday over Toronto FC in front of an announced Soldier Field crowd of 10,450. Signed in Jan. 2021 but ineligible to join the Fire until this year due to FIFA age rules, Duran sat for most of the season as coach Ezra Hendrickson waited for Przybylko to find a scoring groove and show why the team invested so much in the veteran striker.

That hasn’t happened for Przybylko, who was acquired from the Union for $1.15 million in allocation money but has scored just three times. If Duran, 18, keeps up the form he’s shown since taking Przybylko’s spot, the questions will come about whether the switch up top should’ve come sooner, since the win actually moved the Fire’s playoff chances up to 11% per FiveThirtyEight.

Duran, when he wasn’t on the ground after taking hits from Toronto FC players or making sliding challenges to stop their attacks, only fueled that storyline Wednesday with the kind of display the Fire have needed for most of 2022.

In the fourth minute, Duran gave the Fire a 1-0 lead after his pressure created a loose ball that went to teammate Chris Mueller. Mueller then played Duran in, and the young Fire forward used his speed to break free before beating Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg with a cool left-footed finish.

The Fire (5-10-5, 20 points) doubled their lead in the 16th when Brian Gutierrez’s nifty aerial back-heel pass went to Duran just inside the offensive half. With plenty of work to do, Duran outmuscled and outran Toronto’s Chris Mavinga before scoring his second goal of the night, becoming the second-youngest player in team history to score twice in a match.

Whether or not Fire fans should get used to seeing Duran do this remains to be seen.

In October 2020, Duran was listed in The Guardian’s Next Generation 2020 as one of the 60 best young talents in world soccer, putting him firmly on the radar of some of the globe’s biggest teams. Duran has also been clear about his European aspirations, and performances like Wednesday won’t do anything to hurt his stock.

“It’s a city and a league that really help you grow as a player,” Duran told the Sun-Times in January. “They kind of buff you a little bit so you come out shining and as a player that is really helpful so I can come in here and grow as a person, grow as a player, do well and then from here make that leap to Europe.”

Sorting out Duran’s future will be one of many issues for the Fire this winter, but they had other things to worry about against Toronto FC as their season stands on the brink of disaster.

Wednesday night’s match was the Fire’s first since their crushing 3-2 loss to Columbus when they squandered a two-goal halftime lead. But unlike that game, the Fire were able to hold off lowly Toronto to earn their fifth win of the season and move out of last place.

NOTE: Midfielder Gaston Gimenez (yellow card accumulation) and defender Miguel Navarro (red card suspension) were not available. Mauricio Pineda started in place of Gimenez, and Jonathan Bornstein replaced Navarro.

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