Chicago Fire FC pushed its unbeaten streak to five straight matches coming out of Saturday night's 3-2 win at Charlotte FC. Following the match, Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson was joined by brace-scorer Kacper Przybyłko as well as Jonathan Bornstein - who recorded his 200th MLS regular season appearance on the night - in delivering takeaways from the victory. Read their thoughts in full below.
Chicago Fire FC Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson
On what has been different for the team over the course of the last five games and how the team can maintain it over a longer stretch…
“Well, the thing with us, all year, I thought we were playing really, really good football, but there's a bit of naivety in some of the games where we didn't close some games out, some games we were getting opportunities but we just weren't taking them, so we are a lot more effective, a lot more efficient in the final third.
We are still not, you know, putting away as many chances as we should, but we are doing it enough to win, because we play very good defensively as a team. Even though tonight we gave up a couple soft goals, we were able to on the road score three goals to win this game and that's not easy to do, especially in a place like this with those type of fans and that type of atmosphere.
It's just a matter of us now no shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak, and continuing to be consistent and take our chances when we get them.”
On what it meant to see Kacper Przybyłko return to the starting lineup and score two goals…
“He's a good player, he showed that throughout his years in Philly. But he was in a slump. So we decided to go with Jhon (Durán), and Jhon came in and played a couple games for us and so now we have a competition there between both of them.
We have two very, very good strikers, and he played really well tonight. I expected that of him tonight. We felt like he was the player to go with tonight as far as, up top, and he delivered. Two really, really nice goals. But beyond that, just his movement off the ball was better. His holdup play was better. Even defensively, he put in a shift tonight. You have to tip your hat off to a guy like that; a veteran guy who, as you said, loses his job two three weeks ago and stuck with it. Continued to train hard, and you know, when he got back on the pitch as he did tonight, he delivered, and that's what we expect of him, so it's good to see him get a couple tonight.”
On whether Jhon Durán’s social media was part of the decision not to start him…
“No. And I explained that to Jhon when I decided to go with Kacper earlier on in the week. I just felt like Kacper, on the road, would give us a better opportunity to come away with three points tonight.
Going forward, we need to get three points even on the road. I felt that what he does defensively would be a better match, a better fit for us tonight. And he delivered. Not just what he did defensively, to help us, but also on the other end, putting balls until the back of the net. It's something that we knew he had in him, and it's good to see it happening now. The decision had nothing to do with the social media at all.”
On when he learned that Rafael Czichos would be unable to play due to health and safety protocols, and Jonathan Bornstein’s performance in his absence…
“Well, you know, Rafa is our captain. He's been very, very good for us this year, on and off the field. His leadership and his on-the-field play speaks for itself.
Yesterday morning, when we went to training, he wasn't able to train, he was just feeling sick. We did COVID tests and stuff and everything was negative but he just was feeling very, very poorly. We still didn't want to make that decision to leave him out. We knew he couldn't travel with us yesterday. If anything he would fly in today but when he got up this morning he still was feeling badly so we decided even though it would be a big loss, we needed to keep him at home.
So today I just told Bornstein on our team walk, listen, you're going to have to play and start at center back tonight. I have to tip my hat off to Bornstein because here is a veteran guy, he's a left back, he's been out with COVID all week. He trained one day and that was yesterday, the day before, when we really don't do much. And he's called upon the day of the game to come in and play out of position so to speak, at center back. And I thought he went out and did really well tonight. It speaks volumes of the type of professional player this guy is and what this guy means to the team. He's a hard worker and he trains hard, even though when he knows he's not going to start, he does put in the effort.
So I had no issues about putting him on the pitch tonight because I know he could do the job and he went out and did a really good job for us tonight. Late in the game he was cramping up. But he wasn't about to come out of the games. We had Kendall Burks on the sideline to go in the game but Bornstein was not about to leave the game in that state. He's the consummate professional and we are happy to have him on this team. Incidentally, tonight was his 200th MLS (regular season) game, so that just goes to show the type of player that he is, and his longevity and, even at 37, being able to step on the pitch like that in that type of humidity, that type of atmosphere, and put in a shift was very good for him. We are happy for him and we are just happy overall how the team is playing right now.”
On Kacper Przybyłko’s mentality, being able to come back into the starting lineup and perform well after having been taken out…
“You always hope that for your player and you get to learn your players and know what type of player they are, their mentality. Some players, like you said, would have went into a shell and it might have ended their season. You know, I sat down and spoke with him and said, listen, we need change. We need to do something. We are just not getting the results that we needed to get. And before that Toronto game I said, ‘Listen, I'm going to go with Jhon this weekend.’
He said, ‘I understand, Coach. I'm a team player. I'm ready whenever you need me.’
In some games when he didn't start, he came in and he played well for us. The game right after Toronto, we called upon him against Seattle which is a big, huge game for us and he played well.
So we knew that we could count on him, and tonight I just had that feeling that he was the right guy for this game on the road like this, but the good thing for us is, we have two strikers who are, you know, doing well right now. They are competing, and as a coach, I always tell my players, I want my decision to be difficult as far as picking the team. And they are making it difficult for me, and that boils over to the team and shows how strong of a team we can be when we are two-deep at each position.
We are here but we are not going to just stay here if we don't work hard, if we don't continue to do the things that we have been doing these past five games. I told them, it's hard to get here above the line; when I see here, I mean above the line, but it's even harder to stay there.
Now it's a matter for us to go out week in and week out from here on in and put that kind of effort like we did tonight. The football was good. Even in the first half, it ended 2-2 at halftime and I said to them listen, guys, we played 42, 43 minutes of really, really good football but two moments, the first minute of the game and the last couple minutes of the game, we didn't and we allowed two opportunities, two crosses to end up in the back of our net and we have to change that.
But I assured them that I was confident we were going to get another one, minimum, in the second half. We just need to make sure we don't allow them to score and we would come out of here with three points and they did it.
One other thing that was plaguing us in the first half was crosses in the box. We just weren't clearing them. We were getting beat a lot. In the second half, there was a lot of clearance because this is a team that likes to pump the ball into the box and Bornstein and Boki and Mauricio and these guys, Miguel, they won everything. Every cross was cleared, and Gaga came out and was big when he had to be.
Great team win. It's about continuing to push and win games and make sure we are in the playoffs come October.”
Chicago Fire FC Forward Kacper Przybyłko
On what it means for him to score against Charlotte FC tonight…
“I mean obviously for me personally it's like an ego boost, confidence boost, and I'm happy to score again because it's basically my job. But at the end of the day, it's also important that I kept some balls in and some wins and really doing my job as a striker and making space for my teammates.
Yeah, today I'm very, very happy about the goals. So, so, close for my first hat trick. Kind of annoyed by it but at the end of the day the most important is the victory for the team. The second goal was my favorite today, the fact that I finished it off, because I flicked it to Chris, Chris kept it, we put the ball outside and we brought it back, we set it up for Fede, and it was such an amazing and great team goal, I was so happy about that. Finally it's working. Started a very tough beginning, and now we are climbing right where we want to be and right there where we belong with this quality.”
On how the past few months have been, mentally, trying to be focused on what’s best for the team…
“Not the easiest months and past weeks but I'm already very long in this business and I'm very strong mentally and sometimes you have these kind of moments. At the end of the day, it's important to come back. I think I did a great job today. I'm very happy about it but mostly happy for the team. It's also great to have now like another striker and Jhon is doing excellent, too. So if you have someone on your back that is pushing you, too, you need to work, you need to perform. If you don’t perform, then the other one is coming, you know. But also, when Jhon scored, I was so happy for him, as well. Right now it’s a fight between us two. That’s great so you always have options. But at the end of the day, very, very happy after these tough weeks, especially also for me, individually.”
On where this stretch fits in with what the team expected at the beginning of the season and what they have to do to remain in the playoff spot for the remainder of the season…
“There’s a very, very big statement the coach said, ‘It’s very hard to come back, very hard to be in this position where we’re at now but it’s even harder to keep this position,’ and right now we’re there where we want to be. You know, the playoffs, that's our first goal and I think it's going to be hard now to maintain our level. But also to stay there, and I think it was actually, personally also, I was very, very surprised that we went down there because when I came here, I have seen so much quality. I think maybe we needed a little bit to get to this chemistry and right now we’re doing just great times. At the end of the day, no one will ask how we started; it's how we are going to end it, and I think we can end it very, very well this season.”
On what he learned from being dropped from the starting lineup that helped him come back tonight and score the brace…
“You know, maybe it was what we needed. But at the end of the day, like I said, I'm very mentally strong and I don't give up. I don't give up. I have also this tattoo ‘Always believe in yourself,’ and it just means also be yourself and it means I never give up. I know it's going to be hard to come back after the brace of Jhon, but like I said the most important is the team and the team needs me, whether it's one minute or 90 minutes, I'm going to give 120 percent for the victory for the team.
Happy that we finally got there, where we are and yeah, like I said, you need to be mentally very strong in this business. I've been doing it for so long and I think, yeah, I did great, even when Jhon was injured, I stepped up and we won the game, also. Very, very happy. We have a good stretch right now. Let's maintain; let's keep it.”
Chicago Fire FC Defender Jonathan Bornstein
On playing in his 200th MLS regular season game…
“Felt amazing to get the victory here in Charlotte in front of a great crowd. It was really impressive, their fan base, and overall a pretty hard fought game by both sides. The fact that we came out on top, three points, felt really good and to get the 200th MLS regular season appearance, it was very, very touching for myself, for me and my family. It's a great milestone.”
On the past few days, during which he was recovering from COVID and then came into the match to play out of position as a starter…
“I was diagnosed with COVID last week Friday afternoon. So it was a pretty tough three days of a lot of symptoms and at home, just dealing with that, taking care of myself. Didn't get a chance to train with the team until yesterday when we had our pregame training, and that was my first time with the team.
Obviously, we had some other illnesses and injuries that caused me to have to be called upon without having actually trained with the team. It was what it was. I tried to do my best given the circumstances. Pretty tired right now but the most important thing was that the team got the win.
As I've always said, you have to do everything you can for the betterment of the team, and I think a lot of players showed that tonight, myself included and really proud of the group, proud of everybody who put in the effort to get the three points tonight.”
On his reaction when head coach Ezra Hendrickson told him he would be starting and also playing somewhat out of position…
“I welcomed it. I welcomed it. I kind of read the situation even beforehand. You know, having seen who was available for training on Friday, and just got myself mentally ready for the task at hand; and when he asked me about how I felt and everything, I had kind of predicted it, so I was already ready.
So I told him, ‘I'm ready. I'm good to go. I'll go as long as I can, as long as my legs, body and everything will allow me.’ And so that's just how this game works.
And I've actually played center back last year quite a bit, you know, in the previous years, and so it wasn't exactly a new position but a new position within the formation and the players that we have. I was ready for it. I thought, again, those are all external circumstances that were going on but I think we did a good job of dealing with all the adversity that we had to overcome tonight.”
On the growth and changes over the past few months that have enabled the team to push back above the playoff line for the first time since early spring…
“I think the biggest thing you’re seeing is just consistency within the group. Not just consistency for 45 minutes or a good half, a good game but we are being able to string a run of games together and get ourselves back in where we actually want to be, which was above the playoff line.
Now that we have kind of gotten ourselves there, we got to continue to have that consistency and so I think we can't think we've done anything because this league is very hard in that regard; that you can win a few games, and then teams will come after you and so we've got to find a way to continue to do what we're doing, which is in training, training extremely hard, training well and preparing ourselves for the games that are ahead of us.
As a group, we have really come together. We knew that the results weren't there in the beginning and we stayed true to the process that we were going through. So I really applaud Ezra and his coaching staff for not kind of changing things when things weren't going well because we knew we were right there, we were so close and you could feel it. So we have to continue to do that and stay consistent.”
On what it says about the growth of the team that it was able to come back to win after going down 1-0 in the first minute…
“Yeah, if you compare it to earlier in the season when something like that would happen to us, it was tough to climb back from something like that. Tonight you really saw the character of the group really shine, and it happened so early in the game. But everyone, you could see it in their eyes. It's like, c’mon, let's just keep going, keep playing and let's not let something like that surprise us.
And I think it's impressive to be honest. I think you know it takes a lot of fight in a group to be able to come back from 1-0, especially in the first 30 seconds of the game, it can be disheartening. Then you add in their fans, like you said, and it's like a very, very tough mountain to climb back from. But guys showed a lot of heart and showed a lot of character, and I’m extremely proud of the way we responded; and I think that learning experience tonight will serve us a lot going into the future and going into even tougher games as we get closer to the playoff deadline, and hopefully into the playoffs.”