It's been over two months since the signing was officially announced, but the wait is nearly over. Chicago Fire FC's newest attacker is in town and ready to debut.
The Fire signed rising Mexican winger Jairo Torres from Atlas FC for $6 million in February, contingent on Torres remaining with his boyhood club until May 1. Torres helped lead Atlas to a Liga MX Apertura title over the winter and made 32 appearances this year between the Apertura and Clausura.
“A player like Jairo can make a coach’s life a lot easier, take away some sleepless nights," head coach Ezra Hendrickson told media Tuesday on a virtual press conference. "He’s a player with very good technical ability, especially 1v1s. It’s something we need in this team. … I think the fans are going to enjoy watching him play.”
Fans hopefully can watch him play as early as this Saturday when Chicago travel to face Atlanta United (6 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
"Is anyone from Atlanta listening?" Hendrickson joked when asked about his availability, before adding, "he's here to play."
Torres, 21, is a Mexican youth international who debuted with the senior team during a friendly in 2019. He made 119 appearances for Atlas, noting on Tuesday how proud he was to help deliver a title before coming to Chicago.
“I’m just really, really happy to be here," Torres said through a translator. "I’m very excited to be part of the Chicago Fire. I’m thankful for the club waiting for me to get here.”
Chicago technical director Sebastian Pelzer said the club was particularly enamored by Torres' technical quality, 1v1 dynamism and work rate off the ball, both in and out of possession.
“Seeing him live, he was even better than on the screen," Pelzer said.
Shaqiri + Torres
Torres arrives at a major time of need for the Fire, who are struggling to score goals.
Chicago have scored the joint-fewest goals in MLS (6) and have generated the third-worst expected goals total (9.13 xG). Star signing Xherdan Shaqiri has two goals and two assists, but both goals have been from the penalty spot and both assists were secondary.
Hendrickson believes Torres will fit nicely alongside Shaqiri and the pair will elevate each other.
“One of the issues we’re having is getting into the final third and, once we’re there, the quality hasn’t been there," Hendrickson said. "I think he’ll compliment Shaq really well. … Shaq can play a knifing through ball and Jairo is someone who can be on the end of it. Then there’s 1v1, Jairo is really good at that."
Shaqiri has more than 100 caps with Switzerland's national team and has featured for the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Stoke City and Basel in his career.
“I’ve been watching the team; a player who stands out is Xherdan," Torres added. "He’s exceptional, he’s world-class.”
Chicago are hopeful for an immediate impact but aren't putting all their hopes and weighty expectations on Torres from the jump.
“He has the ability to really change this team’s attacking prowess, but we understand that when a player joins a new league, sometimes it takes a while," Hendrickson said. "The pressure is not being put on by us. We’re very happy to have him here but we’re realistic. Even though he has exceptional qualities, it might take him a while. No pressure will be put on him from us. We have good players on the team already.”
Torres won't be the only key attacking addition Chicago make before the Primary Transfer Window closes on Wednesday. The club will soon add American winger Chris Mueller, too.
The Athletic's Paul Tenorio first reported that Chicago will sign Mueller on a free transfer from Scottish Premiership side Hibernian FC, as well as send $500,000 in General Allocation Money to Orlando City SC for his MLS rights. Sources confirm it's done. Pelzer stopped short of confirming it, though teased fans to keep an eye out.
“We’re aware of the reports. We know Chris Mueller very well," he said. "We might come back with more news in the upcoming days.”
Mueller, 25, had 21 goals and 24 assists across 112 regular-season games with Orlando from 2018-21. His best year came in 2020, leading the Lions in scoring as they made their first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance. But that form didn’t quite translate to Scotland, with Mueller scoring once across 15 matches. His lone goal came in the Scottish FA Cup.