The Chicago Fire’s hopes of reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs fell short in 2022, but the growth of several young homegrown talents have left a positive atmosphere within Ezra Hendrickson’s squad heading into Decision Day on Sunday.
Third-year player Brian Gutierrez has taken a major step forward this season for the Fire under Hendrickson’s tutelage, continuing to develop into a two-way attacker. The 19-year-old had only one assist to his name through the first 23 appearances of his MLS career, but increased his total in several areas in 2022.
Gutierrez has scored his first two MLS goals, registered seven assists, and logged over 1,500 minutes of action through 32 appearances. A promising attacking talent for both club and country, Gutierrez has high goals to end his season on a strong note this weekend.
“Being able to train with these guys, the experienced guys, telling me just be ready and look forward to any situation,” Gutierrez said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “And going to camp with the [United States U-20 men’s national team] U-20’s also gave me a boost of confidence with the coach, with Mikey [Varas]. He’s always talking to me and telling me what’s best for me and that just gives me confidence and it is reflected on the field.
“It gives me a great boost of confidence,” he added when asked about making an impact in the final third this season. “It makes me more confident on the field and it makes me play free and it tells me that I can do it. Like I can do it, and it shows on the field.”
Xherdan Shaqiri, Kacper Przybylko, and Chris Mueller all added veteran presences to the Fire’s attack this season, but the hype surrounding Gutierrez and fellow attacker Jhon Duran was also on display this season. His two goals ranked him for the sixth-most on the Fire roster, while his seven assists ranked second behind Shaqiri’s 11 to date.
Gutierrez’s recent Man of the Match-caliber performance against FC Cincinnati was another promising sign for the young attacking player, who also enjoyed a positive window with the USMNT U-20’s in Mexico. Gutierrez featured in the U-20’s Revelations Cup in Mexico, scoring once against Paraguay in a 2-0 victory to close out a busy international break.
Hendrickson has witnessed the growth in Gutierrez as a player and remains confident he can continue improving this offseason towards 2023.
“He’s becoming more of a complete player,” Hendrickson said about Gutierrez. “I think he’s another one that’s very talented when we have the ball. He’s very talented when he has the ball. But a lot of times, you know, the defensive part of it was not there. For us as a team, everyone has to play on both sides of the ball. That’s something that he has also improved on a lot.
“He’s been called upon at times when Shaq [Shaqiri] has been out to really help in, and it’s big shoes to fill,” he added. “We always tell him, look at the guys ahead of you and what they are doing, and try to emulate them. I think the kid is growing into a very, very well-rounded player, and we’re happy to see that.”
Gutierrez and the Fire will head into Week 34 against the New England Revolution aiming to claim a third victory from their final five matches. Although the Fire missed out on the postseason, Gutierrez, Duran, and others have provided hope for an improved campaign in 2023, pending neither of them move away from the club this winter.
After improving in several areas this season, Gutierrez is already focused on what he wants to achieve with the Fire next season.
“Obviously just being a full-on starter and contributing for my team and making the playoffs, and just having a good season and growing from there,” he said.