Major League Soccer

Chicago Fire FC 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
The Fire are gearing up for a return to the Playoffs. | Image: Matthew Burt.
The Fire are gearing up for a return to the Playoffs. | Image: Matthew Burt. /

After years in the shadows, the Chicago Fire are gearing up to make a statement in 2022.

The 1998 MLS Cup champions have made the Playoffs just twice in the last 11 seasons but have spent the winter making sweeping changes to their roster. The investment is finally forthcoming and optimism is high.

So, here's everything you need to know about the Chicago Fire ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

How did Chicago Fire perform in 2021?

The Fire made a horrible start to the 2021 season, losing seven of their opening nine games. A couple of bright spots followed, but the damage was already done and just as they have so many times over the last decade, Chicago finished way out of sight of the Playoff line.

Only Toronto FC and FC Cincinnati conceded more goals in the Eastern Conference, while they were the joint-lowest scorers alongside Inter Miami, hitting the net just 36 times in 34 games.

Despite some pretty soccer, things were clearly dysfunctional at both ends of the pitch, leaving new head coach Ezra Hendrickson plenty to think about this off-season. Luckily, he's been backed well by chairman Joe Mansueto.

Chicago Fire transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Xherdan Shaqiri (from Lyon, $7.5m)
  • Kacper Przybylko (from Philadelphia Union, $1.15m)
  • Rafael Czichos (from FC Koln, $500k)
  • Spencer Richey (from Seattle Sounders, free transfer)
  • Victor Bezerra (from Indiana Hoosier, free transfer)
  • Yanis Leerman (SuperDraft)
  • Kendall Burks (SuperDraft)
  • Charlie Ostrem (SuperDraft)
  • Carlo Ritaccio (SuperDraft)
  • Jhon Duran (from Envigado, undisc.)
  • Jairo Torres (from Atlas FC, undisc.)

Transfers out

  • Alvaro Medran (to Al-Taawoun FC, free transfer)
  • Francisco Calvo (to San Jose Earthquakes, free transfer)
  • Luka Stojanovic (to Al-Hazem, free transfer)
  • Elliot Collier (to San Antonio FC, free transfer)
  • Bobby Shuttleworth (to Atlanta United, free transfer)
  • Ignacio Aliseda (to FC Lugano, Undisc.)
  • Robert Beric (released)
  • Johan Kappelhof (to Real Salt Lake, free transfer)
  • Nicholas Slonina (released)
  • Kenneth Kronholm (retired)

Ezra Hendrickson: Tactics and style of play

From his time as head coach of the Tacoma Defiance (Seattle Sounders 2), we can glean that Hendrickson likes to use a 4-2-3-1 formation. That'll remain the case in Chicago.

Two holding midfielders - most likely Gaston Gimenez and Federico Navarro - will allow the full-backs to drive forward. And they'll have space, with Shaqiri drifting inside as much as possible and Fabian Herbers looking to get into the box to support Przybylko.

The Fire's roster has all the makings of an entertaining team that'll try to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. And if the supporters are at the very least entertained, that'll give Hendrickson time to add even more quality.

Chicago Fire predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Slonina; Sekulic, Pineda, Czichos, M. Navarro; Gimenez, F. Navarro; Herbers, Gutierrez, Shaqiri; Przybylko.

Who are Chicago Fire's key players?

Xherdan Shaqiri

Shaqiri would have been a big signing for the Fire regardless of the fee, but to arrive as the club's record transfer only increases the fanfare... and pressure.

The Switzerland international will have a lot on his plate being the main creative force for Hendrickson's side. Whether going at full-backs on the wings or operating underneath the main striker, he'll be charged with providing pin-point deliveries and unleashing some of those trademark long-range efforts.

Injuries have disrupted Shaqiri's career in recent years but at his best, he has the ability to be one of the real stars of MLS in 2022. Can his body keep up with his talent?

Kacper Przybylko

The man Shaqiri needs to form the greatest connection with is Kacper Przyblyko. $1.15m is a handsome sum for an inter-league MLS transfer, but then the Polish striker is behind only Josef Martinez and Raul Ruidiaz for regular-season goals since his league debut in 2019.

Przybylko is physical and robust and should provide the Fire with a real focal point - he'll be a great target for Shaqiri's deliveries. And what's more, he'll likely thrive off the responsibility of being his team's biggest goal threat.

On paper, this should be a perfect match.

Gabriel Slonina

The signing of center-back Rafael Czichos aside, you still get the feeling the Fire may be a little short in defense. Luckily, they have one of the most talented young goalkeepers in soccer right now behind them.

At just 17 years old, Gabriel Slonina enjoyed a remarkable rise at the end of the 2021 MLS season, starting the Fire's final 11 games ahead of established number one Bobby Shuttleworth.

During that time, Slonina kept four clean sheets and averaged 3.91 saves per 90 minutes, some of which were truly outstanding. Despite his tender age, Slonina has shown real maturity - especially given how he's handled the pressures of his position. And his form has been rewarded with some USMNT call-ups, though he remains uncapped.

As revealed by 90min, Slonina is attracting intense interest from a number of Premier League clubs, as well as teams from the Bundesliga and Serie A, and Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. But for now, he'll remain focused on keeping the Fire's back door well and truly shut.

Chicago Fire 2022 season prediction

Given the level of investment so far, it'd be easy to assume the Fire will fare far better this season than in recent years. But as a club, they're just so unpredictable.

There are still defensive holes that even Slonina won't be able to close entirely, but then they have the firepower to outscore well over half the other teams in MLS.

The Eastern Conference is tough and demanding a Playoff berth from Hendrickson right away would be asking a lot. But they'll be far more competitive.

Prediction: 11th in the Eastern Conference