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Positives to Be Taken From Chicago Fire’s Exciting Season Opener

Chicago Fire FC Midfielder Brian Gutiérrez in the Fire’s Exciting Season Opener

It was nothing short of box office entertainment in the Chicago Fire’s season opener as the Fire kickstarted their MLS campaign on the road against the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park. Despite leading twice, the Fire eventually had to settle for a point in a very dramatic fixture.

Union and Fire Play Out Enthralling 2-2 Draw on Opening Weekend

Plenty of Positives For Fire’s New Squad

There were high expectations coming into this opening match for manager Frank Klopas and his new-look Fire side. Plenty of offseason movement saw several big names in the squad for the first time, and the starting 11 featured three debutants. For one of them, left back Andrew Gutman, the first appearance was a short one, as he picked up a knock inside four minutes. He made way for another new signing, Chase Gasper, who put in an unexpected, yet solid 70-minute shift. Left back Allan Arigoni did well in both defense and attack, but record signing Hugo Cuypers had a rough start up top. Cuypers could not muster a shot on target, often misplacing passes as he tried to quickly adapt to MLS. The other marquee signing of the season, Kellyn Acosta, came off the bench late and looked bright.

The standout performer of the night for Chicago wasn’t a new name, however. It was homegrown talent Brian Gutiérrez. The youngster was the team’s engine throughout the match, serving as a playmaker and weaving beautiful passes into the final third. He scored the night’s opener midway through the first half, launching a delightful edge-of-the-box curler into the top corner. The 20-year-old’s masterful performance continued after the break, as he created and assisted the Fire’s second goal.

Inspired Union Refuse to Back Down

Unfortunately, not even a spirited performance from Gutierrez and new team captain, Xherdan Shaqiri, was enough for Chicago. Twice, the Union went down and twice, they fought back. It seems to have been the youth’s night to shine, with 19-year-old Quinn Sullivan stealing the show for Philadelphia. The American winger was a constant threat on the right flank. He assisted Mikael Uhre for the equalizer early in the second half, and continued to penetrate the Fire defense. Sullivan was duly rewarded for his creativity in stoppage time, when he sent a dangerous cross into the six-yard box. The ensuing chaos would eventually end in a goal, Dániel Gazdag finally getting on the scoresheet with a headed finish off a Jose Martinez assist. Gazdag’s goal will have been particularly satisfying to the Hungarian, after a previous goal was ruled out by VAR. Just seven minutes prior to the equalizer, Fabian Herbers had put the Fire 2-1 up.

The drama did not end there, however. Uhre rattled the crossbar from point-blank range before the Fire nearly scored a late winner on the other end. Substitute Tom Barlow (another debutant), found himself one-on-one with Union goalkeeper, Oliver Semmle, after a speedy counter-attack. Semmle produced a brilliant save with his legs off a lackluster shot by Barlow to secure the point for his team. In the end, 2-2 seems like a fitting result, although both sides will be ruing their missed opportunities.

Signs of Promise for the Fire in Season Opener

The Fire very well could have walked away with more from this match, that much is true. But for a team that placed 13th on the Eastern Conference table last year, a 2-2 draw with a team that made the conference semifinals just three months ago inspires hope. Klopas’ 4-2-3-1 worked well, and if Cuypers can find form as the season goes on, goals will come easy. Gutierrez is set to have a breakout year, a fact that will delight all Fire fans. That being said, the team’s inability to hold a lead remains a huge concern.

Last year, Chicago let slip crucial points in the dying moments of matches on multiple occasions. The back line has the quality, but it seems to lack the composure necessary to close out games. There is a sliver of hope in that new center-back Tobias Salquist is still set to join the squad. Furthermore, if Gutman can recover quickly from his injury, the team will have an added layer of defensive security. If Klopas can instill discipline in his talented defense, the Fire will have one foot in this year’s playoffs.


Note: The Chicago Fire FC will next play at home as they host FC Cincinnati on March 2 at 8:30 PM ET. This is while the Philadelphia Union hosts Deportivo Saprissa on February 27 at 8:15 PM ET before traveling to face Sporting Kansas City on March 2 at 8:30 PM ET.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports, of a Brian Gutiérrez Headshot and a Kai Wagner Headshot, on February 24, 2024.


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