Jhon Duran sparks Fire to 2-0 victory against Toronto FC

Duran scored twice and staked his claim to permanently taking the starting striker job from Kacper Przybylko.

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Jhon Duran celebrates one of his goals Wednesday night.

Jhon Duran celebrates one of his goals Wednesday night.

Courtesy of the Fire

After waiting for his chance to start, striker Jhon Duran is showing why he’s an internationally known prospect. His athleticism, speed and strength have stood out since he was added to the Fire’s starting lineup

Unfortunately for the team, Duran’s emergence is probably too late to save their season.

Duran scored both goals in the Fire’s 2-0 win Wednesday over Toronto FC in front of an announced crowd of 10,450 at Soldier Field. Signed in January 2021 but ineligible to join the Fire until this year because of -FIFA’s age rules, Duran sat for most of the season as coach Ezra Hendrickson waited for Kacper Przybylko to find a scoring groove and show why the team invested so much in the veteran striker.

“It’s a healthy competition that we have on the team,” Duran said through a translator. “It’s like waiting [for] your time, your moment and do what you know how to do.”

Acquired from the Union for $1.15 million in allocation money, Przybylko was supposed to score more than three goals, but his lack of production forced Hendrickson’s hand. If Duran, 18, maintains the form he has shown since taking Przybylko’s spot Saturday against Columbus, the questions will intensify about whether the switch up top should’ve come sooner, especially since the win only moved the Fire’s playoff chances up to 12%, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Hendrickson, though, had an answer. 

“It was [Kacper’s] position to lose, and some may say he should’ve lost it earlier, but we can’t just put the players on the pitch unless they’re showing it in training,” Hendrickson said. “For a long time, Duran was catching up to the speed of play in training, so he was struggling a bit in training just keeping the focus, just being mentally there within the game, playing within the team concept. So that, too, was keeping him off the pitch.”

Duran, when he wasn’t taking hits from Toronto FC that saddled him with an achy left ankle, showed he’s almost ready after looking like an unfinished product during his opportunities earlier this year.

In the fourth minute, Duran gave the Fire a 1-0 lead after his pressure created a loose ball that went to teammate Chris Mueller. Mueller then played Duran in, and the young Fire forward used his speed to break free before beating Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg with a left-footed finish.

The Fire (5-10-5, 20 points) doubled their lead in the 16th when Brian Gutierrez’s nifty aerial back-heel pass went to Duran just inside the offensive half. With plenty of work to do, Duran outmuscled and outran Toronto’s Chris Mavinga before scoring his second goal of the night, becoming the second-youngest player in team history to score multiple goals in a match.

Whether Fire fans should get used to seeing Duran do this remains to be seen. Duran has been clear about his European aspirations, and performances like the one Wednesday won’t do anything to hurt his stock.

Sorting out Duran’s future could be an issue for the Fire this winter, but they had other things to worry about against Toronto FC.

The match was the Fire’s first since their crushing 3-2 loss to Columbus in which they squandered a two-goal halftime lead. But unlike that game, the Fire were able to hold off Toronto to earn their eighth shutout of the season and move out of last place.

Designated player Xherdan Shaqiri said what happened against Columbus was mentioned by him and Hendrickson during halftime. The message was to stay focused and to stick to the game plan until the end of the game.

“That was the key today,” Shaqiri said.

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