Alvaro Medran just might be heating up for Chicago Fire FC at the perfect time.
Signed last October on a TAM deal, the ex-Real Madrid man assisted on both of Chicago's first-half goals in their 2-1 win over D.C. United, the type of performance that showed precisely why he was brought over from La Liga to MLS in a deal announced a year ago this past Saturday.
"We all know the qualities of Alvaro. They're above average," head coach Raphael Wicky said. "He's an amazing midfielder [and a] very, very important player for our team."
On multiple occasions after the match, Wicky commented that the win was "not pretty". And he was right: an own goal off the foot of Jonathan Bornstein with just over half an hour to go to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 seemed to give life to a United side that had parted ways with longtime coach Ben Olsen just three days ago.
Eventually, Chicago were able to hold for a valuable three points to put themselves in playoff position, with their 19 points placing them one clear of Atlanta United for ninth place in the Eastern Conference. And Medran's on-the-field tiff with Robert Beric over a penalty attempt last month seems like a long time ago: his two assists gave him his first multi-point game of the season, with his team looking at another opportunity to move up the table with a trip to Minnesota United coming up on Wednesday.
While Wicky said that this style of match doesn't really fit what the Spaniard is normally used to, he was impressed with how the midfielder adjusted to the circumstances.
"I'm actually very happy that Alvaro was able to put in such a performance in a game like this, which is not his game," he said. "His game is on the ground, short passing, finding the free man in between lines. It was tough today, but he actually fought 90 minutes and gave a great example of what we expect from him."
Highlights: Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United
HIGHLIGHTS: Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United | October 11, 2020
For the 26-year-old, the priority earlier in the season was regaining his footing after a long time off the pitch, with his final match for Rayo Vallecano during a loan spell from Valencia a 2-2 season-ending draw against Celta Vigo on May 18, 2019. He signed for Chicago that October, with his next on-the-field action coming against the Philadelphia Union in a preseason friendly on February 1. His debut a month later against the Seattle Sounders in the Fire's season opener was his first official game in nine-and-a-half months.
"We spoke about him at the beginning of the year," Wicky said. "He didn't play since May 2019 until [preseason] ...that's a long time with no football, and we had to bring him back to a [good fitness] level, and we are bringing him back to [that]."
And while it's been a challenge for all players to navigate "the new normal" of a COVID-19 world, it's been even more of a challenge for international players like Medran who are still relatively new to the country and are still adjusting to life abroad.
"With protocol and schedule changes, it's a lot to deal with, and even more credit to these guys who have come from different countries and been hit with the absurd nature of reality that they had to go through to play soccer," forward C.J. Sapong said.