BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — For the first four-and-a-half months of the season, the Chicago Fire had an O’Hare-sized hole in the center of their midfield.
From mid-March until the end of July, the was no creative center midfielder, no No. 10 around to slip a dangerous pass behind the defense, make a darting on-the-ball run or pop a shot on goal.
Baggio Husidic and Daniel Paladini did their best to help fill Chicago’s attacking midfield void, but the natural box-to-box midfielders weren’t up to par. Their distribution was too often lacking, their creativity was almost non-existent and it showed in the results, with the Fire going 2-6-12 in their first 20 league matches.
But things have changed over the last month. The Fire are looking dangerous, dynamic and difficult to beat, going 2-1-3 in the six league games in August. The main difference: Sebastián Grazzini.
The Argentine playmaker, who signed with Chicago on July 15, has been a creative force at the top of the Fire’s midfield diamond in his six games with the club. Grazzini has been huge since making his league debut on Aug. 3 against Philadelphia, scoring two goals and tallying two assists in MLS action.
He has also set up plenty of opportunities, coming in at seventh in the league with 1.83 chances created per game, according to Opta data.
Grazzini’s teammates have taken notice of the 30-year-old’s solid play, applauding the new signing’s good performances and attitude alike.
“We’ve just been so much more dangerous [since he’s gotten here],” Fire captain Logan Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “I think he’s fit in perfectly… he’s slid right into our team and helped both on and off the field and hopefully he’ll continue to do so.”
Grazzini has done a particularly good job of taking advantage of the tremendous speed of Chicago strikers Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko, slipping the lightning-fast forward duo behind opposing defenses every chance he gets.
“With the speed we now have up top with Dom and Patrick, he makes it a deadly combo,” Pause said of Grazzini. “With Sebastián, we have a guy that can connect with those fast guys that make great runs.”
Grazzini’s happy, too, telling reporters after last week’s Open Cup semifinal win over the Richmond Kickers that he feels very comfortable at his new club.
“I’m very happy with the coaching staff, my teammates and the people who work for the club,” Grazzini said through a translator. “They all make me feel like I’ve been here for a long time. Every game, the team has gotten stronger and I’m just very happy that I’ve been able to contribute my little grain of sand to what we’re trying to build here.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.