Fire captain Rafael Czichos leading from back line

A left-footed center back, Czichos’ steadiness and veteran leadership have been hard to miss, providing ingredients the team has lacked for years.

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Rafael Czichos has made an immediate impact on the Fire.


Captain Rafael Czichos had a simple explanation for why the Fire have pitched three shutouts to begin the season for the first time in club history.

‘‘It’s the mentality,’’ Czichos told the Sun-Times. ‘‘When we’re on the pitch, we want to defend. The first three games, we were

defending like warriors.’’

Much of that mentality is due to Czichos.

Signed during the offseason from German Bundesliga side FC Koln to replace erratic defender Francisco Calvo, Czichos, a left-footed center back, has made an immediate impact. His steadiness and veteran leadership have been hard to miss, providing ingredients the team has lacked for years in the middle of its back line.

‘‘He’s a very motivating guy,’’ defender Jonathan Bornstein said. ‘‘He’s very quiet away from the pitch, but once you get him on there, he has got this fight in him, and I really, really like that. I feed off of that, and, you know, we’ve had conversations, him and I, about what this team really needs to succeed. We’re always on the same page about most of that stuff.’’

Through three games, coach Ezra Hendrickson’s Fire have been difficult to play against. They’re the only team in the league that hasn’t conceded a goal and have a noticeably different posture than last season, when they yielded 54 goals in 34 games. Games that would’ve felt like inevitable losses in 2021 haven’t resulted in defeats in 2022, bringing points that might be valuable when the playoff race takes shape this fall.

The Fire have done it without Carlos Teran, who’s out with an injury but was projected to be Czichos’ partner in central defense. Federico Navarro was expected to be a stout defensive midfielder, but he hasn’t started yet.

So far that hasn’t hurt the Fire, who have given their fans reason for optimism after the first three games. Czichos has formed a successful pairing with Wyatt Omsberg but still is learning the quirks and challenges unique to Major League Soccer. 

Omsberg said Czichos’ arrival immediately shifted the mentality of the defense.

‘‘I feel really comfortable next to him,’’ Omsberg said. ‘‘I feel like we communicate really well together. We kind of understand each other and work well with one another. That’s been great for both of us, and, yeah, three clean sheets is an awesome start. But, again, it’s just a start, so we’ll have to keep it going.’’

Named the captain because of his experience and presence, Czichos said it’s not hard to lead this team because of the help he gets from his teammates and how easy they are to handle. He said he doesn’t even have to lead goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, 17, because he’s so mature and knowledgeable.

‘‘At the end, I enjoy being with the team,’’ Czichos said. ‘‘Hopefully the team enjoys being with me as the captain.’’

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