The 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship is set to take place this summer in Honduras. The competition will serve as qualification for the U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Summer Olympics, providing fans with a long-awaited look at the next generation of American talent. One potential inclusion on the roster is Brian Gutiérrez of Chicago Fire FC. The 18-year-old attacker recently began the third season of his professional career and could be on the precipice of an important breakthrough.
Born in Berwyn, Illinois and raised in Burbank, Gutiérrez joined the Chicago Fire academy in 2015. He led the U-15 side to a title at the 2018 Dallas Cup, scoring the insurance goal in the 2-0 victory over Albion SC in the final. The attacker compiled 28 goals and 39 assists in 79 youth matches, being touted as “one of the most talented midfielder prospects in the United States.” Top Drawer Soccer named him to the Best XI for the 2019 Development Academy playoffs.
Showing out for Chicago!@ChiFireAcademy midfielder Brian Gutierrez with the assist as the U-16 #USMNT tied the Netherlands U-17s on the final play of the game. pic.twitter.com/QwarW607B6— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) November 14, 2019
Chicago signed Gutiérrez to a homegrown contract in March of 2020, with the club describing the 16-year-old as “promising” and praising his work rate. “I’m excited for Brian because he’s a talented and creative player,” said Academy Technical Director Cedric Cattenoy. “He’s improved a tremendous amount over the last two years, and I think he’s going to see continued success in his development within the first team environment.”
His rookie season was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing him to train on his own for the first few months. The MLS is Back Tournament in Florida was a “welcome opportunity,” allowing for bonding with new teammates to become “more connected.” Gutiérrez made his debut in August, playing eight minutes in a 3-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC. He finished the season with six substitute appearances, praised for having “progressed a lot” and “trained very well” since the beginning of the year.
It's level at 2-2!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 17, 2021
Aliseda finds the equalizer for @ChicagoFire with minutes to go. pic.twitter.com/uvf8YdpyHt
In 2021, Gutiérrez received a significant uptick in playing time. He became a rotational starter, appearing at a variety of midfield and attacking positions. After returning from a month-long ankle injury, the teenager registered his first assist in a 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution. His season ended with 17 appearances and Man of the Match honors in the final fixture, but the Fire once again missed the playoffs.
Amid the club’s recent struggles, Gutiérrez’s development has stood out a silver lining. “It’s an honor to represent this club, and it’s an honor to represent my hometown,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in November. “I think this 2021 season, it’s been, I mean, baby steps towards what I set as last year’s goals, like getting more minutes, starting games. I think it’s been a good, progressive season for me.”
Ojo con Brian Gutiérrez de Chicago Fire. Está jugando su primer partido como titular con el Fire con apenas 17 años. Tiene una zurda educada.— Mexican Prospects (@MXProspects) May 14, 2021
Es hijo de padres mexicanos del estado de Jalisco. pic.twitter.com/5Hb4XaSnZe
Despite being primed for a jump, Gutiérrez began 2022 outside of the starting lineup. He entered both matches as a substitute, creating “a couple of nice goal scoring opportunities and provided a spark off the bench.” The teenager is already on the third manager of his professional career, but early signs indicate the Fire may be turning around under Ezra Hendrickson.
As an international, Gutiérrez is eligible to represent Mexico and the United States. He has received multiple call-ups at the youth level for the latter program and was a member of the U-16 squad that won the 2019 Nike Friendlies. Manager Mikey Vargas named him to the U-20 roster for last November’s Revelations Cup in Brazil. The attacker appeared in all three matches at the competition, drawing a penalty in the second fixture against Colombia. According to American Soccer Now, his performances earned “decent reviews,” which led to a call-up to the ensuing January camp.
Gutiérrez is a highly versatile player, capable of lining up at winger, attacking midfielder, and striker. His former manager at Chicago, Raphaël Wicky, described him as “courageous” and possessing “talent and quality on the ball.” According to Chris Smith of 90min, he is “a seriously talented passer and already has the composure to dribble his way out of tight corners,” displaying the necessary ability of “press resistance.” At the Revelations Cup, his technical ability was on full display, twisting and turning out of tight spaces to spring a counter-attack or reset possession.
Nyeman's not the only 17-year-old Homegrown central midfielder in the game. This is very, very nice from the Fire's Brian Gutierrez. pic.twitter.com/RhiDUsmWfR— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) May 14, 2021
“He could be one of the sharper, cleaner attacking players on the roster,” wrote Tyler Terens for the Chicago Fire’s official website. “Guti is just 18 years old and has an incredibly bright future… This kid is a killer. He wants to put defenders on their heels, if not their backsides… He says he is most comfortable in the No. 10 position playing in between the lines and being able to pull the strings in the attacking third. He is obviously also very capable of playing on the wing and cutting inside to cause havoc among the opposition. His passing ability and quick feet in tight spots are perfectly paired with his silent confidence and willingness to make things happen on the half-turn.”
Gutiérrez is going to be challenged this season, forced to compete with improved veterans for playing time under a new manager. While his career has lacked stability due to the pandemic and the Fire’s recent lack of success, he continues to be given chances and impress with the ability to make an impact. Once his final product arrives and production increases, the attacker’s profile should enjoy a rapid rise, marking him as a player to watch this summer.