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Oppo Research: 5 things to know about Chicago Fire

The 24th-best team in MLS last year sold their two top players and have yet to settle on a starting goalkeeper, but they signed Kei Kamara just last night — and they tend to give NYCFC trouble

Cute family.
Courtesy Kai Kamara

1. Chicago sold their two best players for $35 million

It came as no surprise when the Chicago Fire’s FO sold Jhon Durán last month — the 19-year-old forward was one of the few bright spots in a fairly dismal 2022, and it was common knowledge that the marketplace would jump at the chance to sign the promising player. But the reported $20 million fee paid by Aston Villa turned heads, especially when you add that to the reported $15 million the club made when they sold goalkeeper Gaga Slonina to Chelsea last year. Now billionaire Fire owner Joe Mansueto has another $35 million in the bank — and Chicago no longer has the two best players who took the field for them last year.

2. The goalkeeper situation is TBD

Now that Slonina is kicking it in West London, the number-one goalkeeper spot is up for grabs. (Sound familiar?) Head coach Ezra Hendrickson pointedly refused to name his pick for who will be in the bet to face New York City FC this Saturday, stating “I am 100% sure that NYCFC is watching this right now, so I’m going to defer as far as not answering that question. We have a pretty good idea of who will be starting on Saturday but are just not going to go into that right now.”

We love a mystery! Will the winner be Spencer Richey, a 30-year-old who was a starter with FC Cincinnati as recently as 2020 but who fell down the depth chart since then? Or Chris Brady, an 18-year-old who made one start for Chicago last year and logged a clean sheet? Or will it be 29-year-old journeyman Jeffrey Gal, who has been playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan?

3. The Fire aren't good, but they trouble NYCFC

Chicago last made the playoffs way back in 2017. Since then they tend to languish at the bottom of the table, and last year finished 24th overall out of 28 teams. Still, they proved hard for NYCFC to break down in 2022. New York City dominated Chicago at Citi Field last May, but needed Héber to convert a penalty to grab a 1-0 win. NYCFC then beat the Fire on a hot afternoon in August despite Chicago controlling much of the game and creating dangerous chances. Really, it could have gone either way.

Chicago might have lost Durán and Solnina since then, but the core of the team has largely remained intact and will likely be more cohesive than they were last August. You can’t say the same of the new-look NYCFC, who weren't so sharp in last Saturday’s loss to Nashville SC.

4. Chicago didn't play last week

Such is the scheduling when you now have a 29-team league. The opening-week bye means that Chicago had more time on the training pitch, but has yet to see how their squad is gelling. Also: It makes it hard to scout the team.

5. Chicago signed Kei Kamara yesterday

The ageless 38-year-old striker just surfaced in Chicago after logging a nine-goal season for CF Montréal last year. You have to admire Kei Kamara for his fitness, his professionalism, his ability to find the back of the net. And for his endurance: After turning professional in 2004, Kamara has played for an eye-popping 14 different clubs. Chicago will be his 10th club in MLS alone — commissioner Don Garber should give him a mantle clock in recognition of his many years of service.