Xherdan Shaqiri & Kacper Przybylko breakout game keeps Chicago Fire FC surging

Chicago Fire FC made no secret of looking to improve their offense this past offseason, a plan that perhaps reached a turning point Saturday night when beating Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, at Soldier Field.

Center forward Kacper Przybylko scored on either side of halftime to mark his first goals since being acquired from the Philadelphia Union via a trade for $1.15 million in General Allocation Money. Attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, their club-record $7.5 million transfer from Ligue 1’s Lyon, scored his first goal for Chicago when depositing a 50th-minute penalty kick and grabbed secondary assists on Przybylko’s strikes.

With those leading performances, the Windy City side earned their most points (8) through the first four games of a season since 2009. And patience from head coach Ezra Hendrickson was repaid.

“I don't think he would want to come off if I did try to take him off,” Hendrickson said of Shaqiri with a laugh. “But I haven't found a need to take him off yet in any of the games that we've played. So that's why he stayed on. It's the same with Przybylko, even though he wasn't scoring, we kept them on the pitch because we know that he has that type of quality that could give you that goal at any time.”

They aren’t alone in Chicago’s revamped offense, with 18-year-old Colombian forward Jhon Duran still settling into the squad as a U22 Initiative player. And Mexican winger Jairo Torres will arrive May 1 from Liga MX’s Atlas, joining Swiss international No. 10 Shaqiri and Paraguayan international midfielder Gaston Gimenez as DPs.

Individuals aside, Hendrickson is most impressed by the collective’s growth and stingy start to the season.

“I think for us right now, if you look on paper, we're probably not the most flashy team,” Hendrickson said. “But the togetherness and the camaraderie on this team, the unity with this team, it's gonna be hard to beat us. Every man out there is fighting for each other, you know, and that's good to see.

“I've been on teams where we didn't have the best team on paper, but on the pitch, you couldn't beat us, because everyone was just in tune and everyone just fought for each other.”

Fire FC were held scoreless in their first two matches of the 2022 campaign, blanked by Inter Miami CF and Orlando City SC. But the tides have turned in recent weeks, buoyed by a defensive foundation anchored by 17-year-old goalkeeper Gaga Slonina and new center back Rafael Czichos. Argentine defensive midfielder Federico Navarro, another U22 Initiative signing, also projects as a key piece long-term.

“Right now, it's about the chemistry, getting to know each other a little bit more,” Przybylko said. “And the great part is that we play soccer, we try to collect the ball very fast, to create chances, to get the space to create the gaps. And that's what we're doing at the end of the day. We created some chances at the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, we didn't finish them off. Now we're doing it. So it's amazing that we are winning right now.”

Xherdan Shaqiri goal celebration
Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring a penalty kick.

Knowing it’s still early and Chicago face a history of one Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance in the last nine years, Gimenez stressed the importance of not getting too carried away with the hot start.

“It's a long road that we're traveling and it's something that we're only starting,” Gimenez said. “ … We're enjoying this start and emotionally, we're feeling very good. But we also have to remember that we have to calm down because it's only the start and in the meantime we're enjoying it very much.”