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The Chicago Preview

The games come fast. It would be really nice if we could've had a full week to bask in the glory of that 3-0 win, but alas.


Chicago is an odd team. They began the year strong--through their first 5 games, Chicago was undefeated: 3 0-0 draws and 2 wins (0-2 at DC, 3-1 vs. KC). April through May was basically the reverse. They were 0-7-2 through those 9 games, not winning a single game. They did tie against the Galaxy and at RBNY, but they were outscored during this period 19 to 8. In June, Chicago started to rebound a bit, winning against DC and Philadelphia, but losing to Houston. Yeah, that's the dichotomy of Chicago. July brought more mixed results, as they won 2, lost 2, and tied 1.


I believe Chicago's reputation right now--as a somewhat dangerous team--is pretty underserved. They're a hugely inconsistent team, so that can be dangerous in its own right, but, at home, Charlotte should be the favorite in this game.


The other big news in Chicago-land is the move of Gabriel Slonina to Chelsea (he will be back on loan with Chicago for the remainder of this year).

First and foremost, I hate having to put anything about Chelsea on this blog. That club is awful.


Secondly, I honestly think this is a terrible move for Slonina. Chelsea does not develop talent; they buy it. Moreover, they don't have patience for young players. There are exceptions to every rule (see: Mason Mount), but I would be surprised if Slonina ever really plays for Chelsea. That doesn't mean he won't have a successful career, but this feels like a situation where he'll be loaned out multiple times before being sold. Just my 2 cents though. For Chicago, this is a brilliant move to get a lot of funds.

 

Team

Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC

53.1%

11.35

4.30

28 (27.3)

31 (29.1)

29 (7th in East)

6.55 (6.80)

Chicago Fire

49.3%

13.43

4.00

24 (29.1)

28 (30.3)

10th in the East)

6.62 (6.84)

These teams aren't really too different on the surface. I do wish our shots/90 were more in line with Chicago's, but I do like that our SoT/90 continues to outpace teams with higher shots/90.


Chicago is dead last in the East and 2nd lowest in the league behind only Sporting KC in goals for. They're much better defensively, as they are 4th best in the East and tied for 7th in the entire league for goals against.


On the road, this would be a much more imposing matchup, but Charlotte has shown all year they are a different team at home.

 
Chicago lineup vs. Seattle, 7/16, via MLS
Chicago lineup vs. Seattle, 7/16, via MLS

Chicago plays almost exclusively in a 4-2-3-1. FBref has them once in a 4-4-2 and a 4-4-1-1. I didn't check every game on MLS, but the 4-2-3-1 does seem most prevalent. It's what they've been in for the past 3 games. At the very least, a nominal back 4 is guaranteed.


Injury/Suspension

MLS's Availability Report has Chicago with a decent number of injuries: midfielders Sergio Oregel (OUT; international duty) and Gastón Giménez (Questionable; right thigh), forward Stanislav Ivanov (OUT; right thigh), and defenders Wyatt Omsbert (OUT; left foot) and Jhon Espinoza (OUT; right knee). Transfermarkt only lists Omsberg as injured. With Oregel being listed as out for international duty, I'm not sure if that is still the case. The Charlotte Observer lists all of these players as unlikely to play.

Chicago lineup at Vancouver, 7/23, via MLS
Chicago lineup at Vancouver, 7/23, via MLS

Attack

Chicago has 9 players listed as a forward: Kacper Przybyłko, Jhon Durán, Alex Monis, Chinonso Nnamdi Offor, Victor Bezerra, Missael Rodríguez, Ivanov, Chris Mueller, and Fabian Herbers. FBref has Brian Gutiérrez, and Jairo Torres listed as "FW,MF" (Mueller, Ivanov, and Herbers are also listed as this on FBref, for what it's worth). I'm going to be including Xherdan Shaqiri in this because, even though he's listed a midfielder on both MLS and FBref, he's an attacker. Torres is a Young DP and Shaqiri is a DP.


Rodríguez and Monis haven't played in the MLS this season, while Bezerra has 1 appearance for 10 minutes.


Offor is a 22-year-old attacker with 7 appearances and 3 starts. He did get into 34 games (11 starts) last year. He has two career goals, including one this year.

Chicago lineup vs. Atlanta, 7/30, via MLS
Chicago lineup vs. Atlanta, 7/30, via MLS

Ivanov isn't likely to play but had been starting for Chicago often. He had 12 appearances and 11 starts this year, but with only 1 goal. In fact, he doesn't have a history of scoring at all. He had 9 goals in 2019-20 for Levski Sofia in the Bulgarian First League, but aside from that year, he's never had more than 2. Over the past 2 seasons, he's had 2 goals over 35 appearances split between Levski Sofia and Chicago. At only 22, he's more potential than product at this point.


Torres is another young player for Chicago at 22. The Mexican international is in his first season with Chicago coming over from Atlas in Liga MX. He has 10 appearances and 2 starts this year but has yet to score or get an assist. In the previous two years with Atlas (as a 20- and 21-year-old), he had 3 goals each season and 5 total assists (including 4 last year). Torres, unsurprisingly, wasn't playing much at the beginning of the season. As he's settled into MLS, he's beginning to get more playing time. In July, he played in all 6 games, although he only started once. He does have 123 minutes coming off the bench in July, so chances of seeing him is very high.


Herbers and Durán are inconsistent starters, having 8 starts (19 appearances) and 7 starts (16 appearances), respectively. Herbers has one goal and an assist this year, while Durán has 3 of each.


Herbers is 28 and an MLS vet. He started his career with Philadelphia (3 seasons) before moving to Chicago in 2019. With Philadelphia, he had 53 appearances with 4 goals and 7 assists. With Chicago, he has 84 appearances and 8 goals with 5 assists. His defensive numbers are impressive for a winger/attacking midfielder, but his passing and goal scoring (as his historical numbers back up) are mediocre, at best.


Durán is a legitimately exciting player. He's only 18 and in his first season with Chicago, having come from Envigado in the Colombian Primera A. For Envigado, he made 45 appearances (29 starts), getting 9 goals and 4 assists. Seven of those goals came in 2021 as a 17-year-old. With only 635 minutes in MLS, his percentiles should be viewed cautiously, but they're really good so far. When compared with MLS forwards over the past 365 days, he's in the 99th percentile for assists, 89th percentile for xA, and 93rd percentile for shots on target. The rest of his numbers are mixed, but considering his age, he's one to watch.


Przybyłko was a big acquisition for Chicago, who traded $1,150,000 in GAM for him from Philadelphia. Przybyłko had 35 goals and 13 assists for Philadelphia over the previous 3 years, including seasons of 15 (2019) and 12 goals (2021). His time with Chicago has not gone as well. He only has 3 goals and an assist in 19 appearances (14 starts) this year. He's in the 18th percentile for goals, 39th percentile for xG, and 8th percentile for shots on target percentage. He is a good passer (83rd percentile for passes completed, 92nd percentile for passes under pressure) and dangerous in the air (92nd percentile for aerials won). With his history of scoring in MLS, he shouldn't be discounted, but I'm not overly concerned about him as a player.

Mueller heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Mueller heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Mueller is a talented player. Formerly of Orlando City, he attempted a move to Europe with Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership. It did not go well, as he made only 11 appearances (5 starts) and didn't record an assist or goal.


This was in stark contrast to his time with Orlando, where he had 21 goals and 19 assists over 4 seasons, including a 10-goal, 6-assist season in 2020. Now back in the MLS, Mueller appears to be back to his goal-contributing ways with 3 goals and 3 assists in 14 appearances (13 starts).


Though Mueller will mostly play on the left, as his map shows, he's not opposed to the other side of the pitch. He loves to get into the attacking third and box, as his map and his percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days show (87th percentile for touches in the attacking 3rd, 91st percentile for touches in the attacking penalty). He's just an average dribbler, but a really good carrier of the ball (85th percentile for progressive carrying distance, 87th percentile for progressive carries, 87th percentile for carries into the penalty area). He's not always strong with the ball (11th percentile for dispossessed, 29th percentile for miscontrols). He still needs to work on his passing (69th percentile for passes completed) and, at least by advanced metrics, his goal contributions (55th percentile for xG, 29th percentile for xA), but he's a player that can impact the game.

Gutiérrez is the player that most intrigues me of this group. At only 19 years old, he's already made 45 appearances and 18 starts in MLS. This year, he's at 22 appearances and 12 starts with one goal and 3 assists.


His heatmap also shows someone who prefers the left side of the pitch, so he and Mueller's dynamics on the wings will be interesting. He's not guaranteed to start, but he will see game time at some point. Aside from his assists (84th percentile), his percentiles are not great. That's to be expected for a player so young.


While his passing isn't great (49th percentile for passes attempted and completed), he's in the 84th percentile for shot-creation actions from live passes, which shows he does have the ability to unlock defenses with a pass. He's learning how to use his technique in-game, as he's in the 98th percentile for nutmegs, but only the 56th percentile for dribbles completed. The bottom line is Gutiérrez is nowhere near a complete or finished player, but the numbers show a young player who has a lot to build on.

Shaqiri heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Shaqiri heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Shaqiri is the big name for Chicago. I've always enjoyed watching him for Switzerland, but I've often felt his club performances were lacking. Regardless, he's talented to be sure and will present Charlotte with issues. He's almost 31, but should still have another couple of good years.


Shaqiri began his career with Basel in the Swiss Super League. As a teenager, he scored 18 goals and had 17 assists for Basel in 92 appearances. In his last year with Basel he had 9 goals and 10 assists. This got him a move to German giants Bayern Munich, but he was never able to make much of an impact there. He played in 52 appearances (26 starts) over 3 seasons with Bayern, scoring 11 goals and getting 9 assists. His playing time was reduced every year with Bayern and he spent half of the 2014-15 season with Inter in the Italian Serie A. He made 15 appearances (8 starts) for Inter, but only scored 1 goal and had 2 assists.

Shaqiri passing percentiles vs. CAMs/wingers in MLS over the past 365 days, via FBref
Shaqiri passing percentiles vs. CAMs/wingers in MLS over the past 365 days, via FBref

He moved to the EPL in 2015, first with Stoke City (3 seasons, 84 appearances, 84 starts, 15 goals, 15 assists) and then with Liverpool (3 seasons, 45 appearances, 18 starts, 7 goals, 5 assists). Last year he was with Lyon, where he only got into 11 games (9 starts), scoring 2 goals and getting 3 assists.


Now with Chicago, I'm not sure Shaqiri ever lived up to his hype with Basel. More specifically, I think he's a good player but was never at the level of teams he found himself on (except Stoke). When you look at his time with big clubs, he's a decent player, but not a game changer. With Stoke, he was good on a bad team in a great league. Now in MLS, he's producing more as he did with Basel, but still not quite to those levels, at least in terms of goal contributions.


Shaqiri has 4 goals and 4 assists on the year, but two of those goals are from penalties. When compared with other MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, his non-penalty xG is only in the 16th percentile. His assist numbers are good (68th percentile for assists, but 91st percentile for xA), but his real danger is his passing. As his passing percentiles above and pass types percentiles below show, he's not only capable of completing his passes, but they're often dangerous ones. Specific areas that jump out to me include:

Shaqiri pass type percentiles vs. CAMs/wingers in MLS over the past 365 days, via FBref
Shaqiri pass type percentiles vs. CAMs/wingers in MLS over the past 365 days, via FBref
  • 96th percentile for passes under pressure

  • 96th percentile for switches

  • 91st percentile for long passes completed

  • 98th percentile for passes into the penalty area

With these numbers, it's a little surprising that a player like Przybyłko isn't having a better year. It also probably helps explain why a young player like Durán is having such a strong start. Bronico will have his hands full with Shaqiri, but if he's proven anything this year, it's that he can handle that kind of task.


Midfield

Chicago's site lists 7 players as a midfielder including Federico Navarro, Gastón Giménez, Javier Casas, Oregel, and Maruicio Pineda. Shaqiri and Torres are listed as midfielders, but they've been discussed above in the attack section. With Oregel and Giménez likely out, it leaves Chicago pretty short in the midfield. Casas is listed on the site, but has only appeared in 2 games for a total of 14 minutes.


This leaves two players for the midfield: Navarro and Pineda, who have both started the past 2 games with Giménez's injury. Navarro has appeared in 21 matches (18 starts) and Pineda has appeared in 17 games (14 starts). Unsurprisingly with Chicago's 4-2-3-1, both of these players provide defensive coverage in the midfield and don't get into the penalty area too much, as their heatmaps (below) show.

Navarro heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Navarro heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Navarro, a U22 Initiative player, is in his second season with Chicago, having joined from Talleres in the Argentinian Primera División. He only played in 21 games for Talleres and never got a goal or assist.


With Chicago, he's been an immediate starter. He joined Chicago midway through the 2021 season and made 12 appearances (10 starts), scoring once. This year he has a goal and 2 assists.


His passing percentiles (below), don't jump out as great, but at only 22 and with his overall lack of playing time, I see them as a foundation he's building upon. If he never improves it's a problem, but that seems unlikely.

Navarro passing percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via FBref
Navarro passing percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via FBref

Defensively, Navarro is outstanding. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 98th percentile for tackles, tackles won, and tackles plus interceptions

  • 96th percentile for tackles in the defensive 3rd

  • 95th percentile for tackles in the middle third

  • 93rd percentile for dribblers contested and 88th percentile for dribblers tackled

  • 93rd percentile for successful pressures

His defensive nous scares me as I really want Świderski to stay further up the pitch, but his technical quality might be needed in our buildup. Players like Bender and McNeill are really going to have to be smart about their passing and positioning. We've done a lot of our building through the wings and, with a player like Navarro in the middle of the field, it's probably a good idea in this one too.


Pineda is another decently young player at 24. He's in his 3rd professional season, all with Chicago. He's made 69 appearances (65 starts) in these 3 seasons and will play as a CB too. Considering the lack of options Chicago has in the midfield, though, I imagine he'll remain as a CM for this game. In his career, he has 4 goals and 2 assists, but 3 of those goals and both assists came in his first year.


Regardless of position, Pineda isn't a great passer, nor is he really a great defender. As a guy who can play as a defensive midfielder or CB, you would expect his numbers to jump off the page when he's compared with CMs. They don't. He's in the 95th percentile for successful pressure percentage, but he's only in the 10th percentile for pressures. His shots blocked (90th percentile for shots blocked) and clearances (99th percentile) do look really good, but he doesn't tackle well (29th percentile). He also intercepts the ball pretty well (83rd percentile). He will break up play in the midfield, but he doesn't pose much issues otherwise.


If Giménez does play, he'll help this team. He's a good dribbler (93rd percentile for dribbles completed) and a better passer than Pineda. He's a good compliment for Navarro, so hopefully (for Charlotte's sake) he misses this game.


Defense

Chicago lists 10 players as a defender: the injured Omsberg and Espinoza, Kendall Burks, Andre Reynolds II, Carlos Terán, Miguel Navarro, Jonathan Bornstein, Rafael Czichos, and Boris Sekulić.


Burks has yet to make an appearance this year, while Reynolds has gotten into 5 games (1 start) for a total of 170 minutes.

Czichos defensive percentiles vs. MLS center halves over the past 365 days, via FBref
Czichos defensive percentiles vs. MLS center halves over the past 365 days, via FBref

Czichos and Terán are the two primary CBs, at least over the past few games for Terán. Czichos has started and played in 18 games, while Terán has played in 14 with 11 starts. They both actually chip in quite a few goals, as Czichos has 3 of them and Terán has one. They balance each other out in terms of age and experiences, too. Czichos is 32, while Terán is 21. The latter is in his 3rd season with Chicago, having joined from Envigado in 2020. Czichos, meanwhile, is in his first season with Chicago, having joined from Köln, where he spent the previous 4 seasons.


Czichos' goal numbers are off the charts for a CB, which isn't surprising considering his 3 goals on the season. I would normally consider these types of goal numbers for a CB to be an aberration, but they're probably not for Czichos. While he only scored 4 goals and had 4 assists for Köln, with his earlier teams (Rot-Weiß Erfurt in German league 3 and Holstein Kiel in German league 2/3), he scored a lot. He has two seasons of scoring 7 goals and one season (2014-15) of 7 goals and 5 assists. In total, he scored 21 goals and had 13 assists over 6 seasons with these two teams. For a CB, that's indescribably good.


Defensively, he's strong. While he's not likely to pressure, he's good when he does. His tackle numbers are really good and he reads the game well. He's not a great passer, but with his goal-scoring ability and defensive numbers, he's a really good signing and player for Chicago.


Terán is also showing an ability to score. Like Czichos, he's not a great passer, but at only 21 he has time for this part of his game to develop. Defensively, Terán is good in a tackle (83rd percentile, 83rd percentile for dribblers tackled) and is more active in pressuring (60th percentile). He's not as good when he pressures as Czichos is, but I honestly think these two look like they make a good partnership. Czichos' experience and ability should help in Terán's development, but probably also helps cover for him during actual games.

Sekulić brief scouting report vs. fullback over the past 365 days of MLS, via FBref
Sekulić brief scouting report vs. fullback over the past 365 days of MLS, via FBref

Sekulić has appeared in every game for Chicago, starting in all but one, as their right back. He's in his 3rd season with Chicago, having joined from Górnik Zabrze in the Polish Ekstraklasa. He doesn't have a goal this season but has had 2 goals in each of his first two. He has an assist this year after having 4 last year and 2 in his first year.


As his brief scouting report shows, he is not terribly impressive. The xA numbers and progressive passes are decent, but everything else is pretty mediocre. He's a solid player and every team needs these types, but compared with some of the fullbacks we've seen this year, he's nothing to write home about.


On the other side, M. Navarro and Bornstein have split time at left-back. Bornstein can and has played higher up the pitch, but almost all of his starts this year have come as a left-back.


At 37, Bornstein is hugely experienced. He's made 8 starts this year, scoring one goal. He's in his 4th season with Chicago. At this point in his career, he's not necessarily someone we should be overly concerned about. His passing is bad (49th percentile for shot passes completed, 24th percentile for medium passes completed, and 28th percentile for long passes completed), and he's not a great defender (25th percentile for tackles, 2nd percentile for dribblers tackled, and 28th percentile for pressures). We want him to play.


M. Navarro is the other left-back and more likely starter. He's in his 3rd season with Chicago, having joined from the Venezuelan league. He's never scored a goal in his 3 seasons and doesn't have an assist this season (he had 2 last year and 1 the year before).


He's young at 23-years-old and his percentiles reflect that. His passing needs work, but his defensive numbers show real promise. He seems to read the game well (84th percentile for interceptions, 97th percentile for blocks, 96th percentile for passes blocked) and is okay with tackling (66th percentile for tackles, 68th percentile for dribblers tackled). At the very least, he's not worse than Bornstein and would definitely offer more energy.


Goalkeeping

Chicago has 4 goalkeepers on their roster, but only Slonina has played. The 18-year-old goalkeeper has played every minute of Chicago's season after appearing in 11 games last year. He's allowed 28 goals in 23 starts, has a 65.2% save percentage, and a 1.22 goals allowed per 90. His PSxG+/- doesn't stand out, as it's only +0.9 this year and was only +0.7 last year. For a young player, he also really defends his area well. He's in the 69th percentile for crosses faced, 83rd percentile for crosses stopped, and 72nd percentile for crosses stopped percentage. At 6'4", his aerial ability isn't surprising.


There are definitely areas where Slonina is going to need to improve (e.g., passing), but at only 18 he's such an anomaly. Goalkeepers do not play this much, this young, at this level. Any criticisms of his play should be viewed through this lens. He's good and Charlotte will have to work to get goals, but he's not prime Neuer (yet).


More importantly, his next few years are going to be huge. It's great that he's going back to Chicago for the rest of this year, but he's not beating out Mendy at Chelsea, at least not this upcoming season or next. For his (and the USMNT) sake, I hope Chelsea, his agent, and he are all smart about his next destination. He needs to play and play a lot, hopefully at a decently high level. He's probably not ready for the EPL or any of the other Big 5 leagues, but second divisions or smaller leagues would be good. I'd love to see him in the Eredivisie since it's such an attacking league. Get him practice stopping shots, and lots of them. Plus, the young talent that comes through this league would help prepare him for tougher ones.


Conclusion

I'm very optimistic about this game. It's by no means a sure thing and this is a much better team than DC, but Charlotte not only needs to win this game--they should.


I'm not expecting too many changes to the lineup this game, with maybe the exception of Fuchs for Mora. That's not to say I wouldn't like to see some.


Lindsey for Afful would be nice, more because Afful is 36 and that's a lot of game for old legs. I'm really curious to see what happens with the right-back spot with the acquisition of Byrne. I don't think we're bringing him in to be a backup. Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing if Lindsey could do a job on the left because Mora shouldn't be starting.


I'll continue to say that Reyna also shouldn't be starting. To me, he's a "moments" player, meaning, fans remember his moments in a game. The step over that puts someone flat on their back; the curling goal, the good run. I would urge everyone to look past those moments though and look at his whole game. When you do, it's not good. He will have 3-4 moments in a game, but aside from that, he doesn't do much. My biggest issues with Reyna center around his passing and defense. Look below:

Reyna passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Reyna passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Reyna defensive percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref
Reyna defensive percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref

Those are just horrible numbers and, for a veteran who should know better, unacceptable. His two goals against Miami are really doing some heavy lifting in the minds of fans. I'd prefer Shinyashiki over him on the left, but I don't know that that will happen, as Lattanzio doesn't seem to like that for starting a game. My only guess with this is he wants Reyna's pace. If we want pace, though, why not have Gaines and Jóźwiak on the wings? I won't hear that they can't give at least what Reyna does and I vehemently assert they would give more. Vargas getting a start or two would also be welcome. As long as he's on the pitch I'll support him, but Reyna is playing too much.


Prediction: Charlotte 3 - Chicago 1



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