Development of Jhon Duran and Brian Gutierrez positive in lost Fire season

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here, there haven’t been many bright spots to come out of the Fire’s season, but one was evident in their 3-2 win at FC Cincinnati on Saturday.

Jhon Duran, 18, scored twice and Brian Gutierrez, 19, added a goal and two assists. The development of the two teenagers has been a bright spot for the Fire, whose final is Sunday at Bridgeview against the New England Revolution.

Neither do the finished products – Duran needs to hone his immense physical gifts and improve with his right foot, and Gutierrez needs to get stronger on the ball and see faster plays – but both have shown promise this year, and on Saturday was another example of their growth.

“I’ve been saying this from the start, they both have very, very high ceilings,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said.

Whether Duran’s development continues with the Fire or elsewhere in 2023 is another question.

Apparently, Duran is on the radar of English giants Liverpool and Chelsea. Both teams are American-owned and Chelsea have already bought Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, so neither club should have a negative view of MLS talent.

Duran, who has made it clear he sees himself eventually jumping to Europe, could follow Slonina to the Premier League or another prestigious circuit across the Atlantic. Hendrickson, who wasn’t shocked by the reported interest, hopes Duran will still be with the Fire next year after scoring the team’s goal in 2022.

“He’s here, he’s our player,” Hendrickson said, “but I can see why teams are very interested.”

Already coveted when the Fire signed him in 2021, Duran has done nothing to hurt his stock this year, earning his first two appearances for the Colombian national team. Coming on Sunday, Duran has eight goals and three assists in 1,274 minutes and has improved noticeably as the season progressed. He bought into the team concept, became more disciplined and mature, and overtook veteran Kacper Przybylko for the starting striker spot.

Over the last four games for the Fire, Duran has scored five goals.

“It’s just about putting in the work,” Duran said through a translator. “The hard work of the team helps me too, but it’s mostly about wanting to do the right things and keep working hard so that you can keep doing the right things. And also, it’s listening to the people around you. There are very important people around you who are always trying to help you, so you have to listen to them too.

There wasn’t the same hype surrounding Gutierrez when he signed as a local player in 2020, but his trajectory is also encouraging. In his third season in MLS, Gutierrez registered two goals and seven assists and received a new contract until 2026 with a team option in 2027.

He also put himself in consideration for a full-time member of the first 11 in 2023 after starting 19 times this year in midfield. His production has boosted his confidence, which should be beneficial next spring when Gutierrez faces higher expectations.

“It allows me to play for free,” Gutierrez said. “That tells me I can do it.”

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