The home crowd was already prepared to celebrate, awaiting the full time whistle in a comfortable home win, when Arturo Alvarez put an exclamation point on the evening.
With the Fire leading the Philadelphia Union by two goals in stoppage time, Alvarez flashed a bit of skill and attacking flair to put the game away, executing a 90th-minute stepover-and-finish combination that had him in the running for MLS Goal of the Week.
“Obviously we’re coming off a big game at home,” he said. “We’re excited to be back at home for a second game in a row. After a performance like Philly, you just want to keep that momentum going."
Momentum is something of which the 31-year-old seems to be carrying a personal supply. His latest outing marked his third-straight performance with either a goal or an assist, dating back to his two-assists-in-18-minutes performance off the bench in the team’s 3-0 victory in Montreal on Aug. 20 (Alvarez was rested during the team’s match in D.C.).
The impressive stretch has helped move his current campaign into the conversation for the best in his career. His five goals and five assists are each just one shy of his personal season-best of six, both totals he hit when splitting time with FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008.
“I think Arturo is having one of the best season so far in his career,” head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We are very happy with that. His experience that he’s bringing to our team is very important. We were also very happy to see that he can even increase the number of goals he scores. Assisting our team, our players is something that he always did very well.”
Alvarez also leads the team in the more advanced metrics of key passes (those that lead to a shot on goal) with 27 as well as big chances created (those where it’s determined that a player should score) with four. The veteran offered a simple explanation as to why he’s risen to this level of form in his first season in Chicago.
“I’m enjoying every single game,” he said. “I want to come in and contribute to the team in any way possible. I want to be an important player for this club, so I’ve got to make sure I bring my A-game to every game and try to help the team as much as possible. If that’s by scoring a goal or assisting, working hard, then so be it.”
Alvarez arrived in the Windy City as a trialist prior to the team’s 2016 campaign. He began his career as a 17-year-old with the San Jose Earthquakes -- signing with the league as part of the same 2003 class as the likes of Logan Pause, Mike Magee and Ricardo Clark -- and would also ply his trade at FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake within MLS before making the move overseas in 2011. After a stint with Portuguese Primera Liga side F.C. Paços de Ferreira, he was loaned to Videoton of the Hungarian first division. He’d feature 23 times for their title-winning side in 2014-15, and credits his experiences overseas with his resurgence in Chicago.
“I would say the biggest change in my game is the tactical side of the game,” he said. “I think I’ve learned a lot going to Europe and being over there with really good coaches who helped me understand the game better tactically, I think that helps a lot. The game of soccer has evolved a lot into a very dynamic game now, a lot of good athletes out there, you have to keep up with it and I think if you read the game correctly it'll take you a long way.”
With his Fire side still alive in the Eastern Conference and gearing up for crucial back-to-back home matches against Toronto FC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago Plus | TICKETS) and D.C. United, Alvarez doesn’t worry about looking too far ahead of the next challenge.
“I’m trying to go into every game taking it game at a time,” he said. “I just enjoy it and work hard. We’re definitely still in the hunt to make the playoffs. We’re there. It’s not out of our reach. I think if the group continues to have faith in ourselves and a lot of belief, I think we’ll be able to do it. That’s the main thing. Go out there, work hard, enjoy yourself and then the rest will take care of itself.”