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Lineup Bingo: How New Signings Affect Chicago Fire’s Starting 11?

Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas with an improved Chicago Fire Starting 11

A decade of agony may finally end in 2024 for Chicago Fire FC. With big names and seasoned veterans coming in, could the club finally establish itself as a playoff mainstay? And how might they line up to accomplish it? The new season kicks off this Saturday, with the Fire traveling to Philadelphia for a clash with the Union. We take a deep dive into the state of the new-look squad.

Cuypers and Acosta to Aid Chicago Fire’s Starting 11 and the Team’s Transformation

Looking Back at 2023

It’s the old Fire way: play below-par football for most of the year with random bursts of form, then miss out on the playoffs in the final stretch. History dictates that this will inevitably happen, and indeed it did in 2023. With Frank Klopas at the helm on an interim basis (Ezra Hendrickson was sacked in May), the club placed 13th in the MLS Eastern Conference. A 10-10-14 record proved to be insufficient for a postseason berth, even with recent playoff expansion. The Fire nailed their own coffin shut on the final two matchdays, losing to fellow playoff hopefuls Charlotte FC and NYCFC. 

What Did the Team Look Like?

Throughout the season, Klopas deployed his men in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The attack was centered around Xherdan Shaqiri in the number 10 position, often flanked by fellow Swiss Maren Haile-Selassie. Fabian Herbers and Brian Gutierrez both made a number of appearances in the three-man attacking midfield as well.

Meanwhile, a three-man rotation consisting of Kacper Przybylko, Kei Kamara, and Georgios Koutsias filled the striker role. Gaston Gimenez regularly started in the double pivot, alongside a number of different players. Jairo Torres, Miguel Navarro, and loanee Ousmane Doumbia were Klopas’ most common choices.

The four-man back line saw constant alteration, although Rafael Czichos was a guaranteed starter when fit. The former Köln man also served as captain in 2023. Miguel Navarro and Carlos Teran both made over 20 league appearances, the former occasionally being deployed as a fullback with Wyatt Omsberg as a center-back. Jonathan Dean was the preferred choice at left back in the latter half of the season and newcomer Arnaud Souquet appeared 25 times, primarily at right back. Chris Brady was the undisputed no. 1 keeper, with 30 matches started between the sticks.

New Season, New Fire?

As fans grow increasingly disappointed by the front office’s transfer business since the Joe Mansueto takeover in 2019, the Fire may finally alleviate these frustrations with their recent business. For starters, the club offloaded Kamara and sold Przybylko to partner club Lugano in the Swiss Super League.

Mansueto’s two-club model has proven beneficial to the Fire, allowing them to free up roster spots as well as lower the wage bill. Navarro was sold to the Colorado Rapids and several loans have also expired. Klopas has been entrusted to lead the reformed squad on a permanent basis.

Cuypers Leading the Line

With Koutsias considered to still be too young to start as lone striker, the club splashed out on a true number 9 in Hugo Cuypers. Cuypers is a record signing and is expected to be the Fire’s talisman. He joins from Belgian side Gent, where he registered 33 goals and eight assists in 62 appearances. He will certainly start up top in Klopas’ 4-2-3-1, or else in the occasional strike partnership with Koutsias or Tom Barlow. Barlow, signed from New York Red Bulls, will offer healthy competition and MLS experience. The attacking midfield will remain largely unchanged, after Haile-Selassie’s loan from Lugano was made permanent. 

USMNT’s Acosta to Reshape the Midfield and the Chicago Fire’s Starting 11

Gimenez will almost certainly return to the Starting 11, again in the two-man defensive midfield. With 96 MLS appearances to his name, he is expected to partner the second major signing of the offseason after Cuypers, Kellyn Acosta. Acosta may well be the steal of the year, joining for free after his contract with LAFC expired.

He’s nothing short of an MLS legend, amassing ten seasons in the league at the age of 28. A 2022 MLS Cup champion, Acosta also has 58 appearances for the U.S. National Team, including at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. In a side that has had persistent midfield struggles, Acosta is the missing puzzle piece.

What About the Defense?

The additions of Cuypers and Acosta mean that multiple defensive signings have gone largely under the radar. Tobias Salquist joins from Silkeborg in the competitive Danish Superliga, and could very well become a starter, along with Czichos.

Long-time MLS player Chase Gasper arrives from the Houston Dynamo, and will probably serve as a reserve fullback. Allan Arigoni is the final addition, having joined on loan from Lugano. He’s set to start at right-back, with the Fire attempting to send Souquet to France but ultimately failing to do so. Regardless, Arigoni is clearly the club’s top choice.

READ MORE: Is Signing Xherdan Shaqiri a Good Move for the Chicago Fire?

Left back was a major question mark for the Fire going into the off-season, but it was resolved almost instantly with the addition of Colorado Rapids player Andrew Gutman in December. Dean will offer depth in that position. The decision regarding who starts in goal is also an easy one, with Brady returning to the fold in 2024. Overall, as things stand, Klopas could have a true contender team on his hands.


Note: The first MLS season game for Chicago Fire’s starting 11 will be seen on Saturday at 7:30 PM ET. The game will be done at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania and fans can watch the game live on Apple TV.


Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports, of a Frank Klopas Headshot, on October 21, 2023.


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