Lost amidst David Accam’s late heroics for the Chicago Fire on Wednesday was the solid performance of midfielder Khaly Thiam.
In the Fire’s penalty shootout victory against Indy Eleven at Toyota Park, Thiam had his most assertive and positive performance since joining the club on May 4.
The Fire’s 22-year-old Senegalese midfielder completed 51 out of 59 passes in the match, good for a solid 86 percent completion rate. Those 51 completed passes were the third most on the team and included three “key passes” that signified a chance created. Thiam also probably should have had an assist when he slid across a ball to David Accam at the far post in the first half, but Accam hit the open shot off the crossbar.
“I think Khaly did very well,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “For us it was very important to see that he is starting to get the speed of the game, to execute and play fast.”
Thiam also converted his penalty kick, which came in a tough spot. Kennedy Igboananike skied the Fire’s first attempt over the crossbar and Indy Eleven had converted each of its first two spot kicks. Thiam stepped up in the shootout with all the momentum against the Fire and converted.
“What was very, very good for him also to score that goal, the penalty,” Paunovic said. “We believe we are building and giving him the right support and the right pace of getting games in the league and in this competition, too. He is improving well and we will do everything to support him and take the best of him.”
In Thiam’s first three outings with the Fire, he had failed to make an impression in midfield. In fact, the 51 completed passes in his 120 minutes against Indy Eleven are more than the 35 he completed in his 151 minutes of MLS play.
Thiam had a high completion percentage in his debut against New England, completing 17 of 21 passes in 64 minutes, but a central midfielder needs to be more involved than that. In his second appearance, Thiam played 62 minutes at the New York Red Bulls and was even worse, completing just 11 of 19 passes.
Wednesday’s performance, even if it came against an NASL side, was Thiam’s best showing in a Fire shirt so far. Having a similar game against an MLS team is the next step, but at least Thiam showed his ability more than he had previously.
“I feel more comfortable,” Thiam said. “It was a very difficult match.
“We could have killed this game earlier, but it’s football.”
Thiam hadn’t played a full 90 minutes yet with the Fire and Wednesday’s game was 120 minutes followed by the pressure penalty on a hot summer night.
“I think everybody was tired, but we were just going,” Thiam said. “Everybody wanted to win this game so we went until the end. We were successful.”
The Fire learned what’s next in the U.S. Open Cup when the draw was held on Thursday morning. The Columbus Crew will visit Toyota Park on Tuesday, June 28. The winner will host the winner of the Orlando City/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers match in a quarterfinal.