Newly formed Gilberto, Kennedy Igboananike partnership paying dividends for Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It may have taken until the twilight of the season, but Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop may have found his most potent strike partnership in Kennedy Igboananike and Gilberto.

The pair have started the last three games and have combined for an impressive five goals and three assists despite the Men in Red’s continuing inconsistent form, which sees them languishing at the foot of the Eastern Conference table (7-14-6, 27 points).

The presence of recent Designated Player signing Gilberto has added greater purpose and quality to a Fire attack that has scored the second-fewest goals in the East, and with Yallop now favoring a two-pronged attack in a 4-4-2 set-up over the 4-3-3 employed for much of the campaign, he is beginning to reap the rewards.

And with Mike Magee and Jason Johnson also vying for game time in the attack, it appears the Fire are well equipped going into the final seven games of the season.

“They’ve worked well together, goals and assists and all that stuff,” Yallop told reporters at Toyota Park on Wednesday ahead of their Friday night away clash with the surging New York Red Bulls (7 pm ET; UniMas). “That’s all you can ask from your forwards; be active, work hard defensively, which they do, and be dangerous in the final third, and they’ve both done that.

“I’m pleased with them. Kennedy’s at 100 percent fitness. Gilberto’s still getting there, but they’ve done well together. They seem to have a little bit of a sense of where each other are and what each other’s going to do, which is always good.”

Igboananike scored just two goals in 21 regular season games as he mainly played the central forward role, but five goals in the last five games suggests he has found his feet in MLS and relishing his role in the team.

“Like I said before, I can play with anybody, and since I have been playing [here] I haven’t been playing with fellow strikers,” Igboananike told Wednesday.

“The ones that I have played with are a little bit like midfielders,” he added. “When you play with another striker you know both of you can do something. Most of the guys are midfielders or wingers, but when you have a striker up front you know what to do. Both of you communicate better, so I think it’s a better combination.”

Igboananike’s improved form also coincided with the Fire buying down his DP contract, but the 26-year-old insisted that has had no impact on his performances.

“I don’t see any problem with being a DP or buying down a contract or whatever,” he said. “It was just the right time, getting used to the team and getting used to everything and being strong mentally. For me, DP is just a status. It doesn’t matter for me. Everybody is important, so I’m just going to keep my head up and keep going.”