Fire fall to Revolution, acquire Mexican forward

Fire fall to Revolution, acquire Mexican forward

Saturday, July 17, 2010
8:30 PM

By Tony Andracki
CSNChicago.com

The Fire did not wait long to begin their bounce-back after a 1-0 SuperLiga loss to New England Saturday at Toyota Park, announcing after the game that it had acquired Nery Castillo as a Designated Player.

Castillo is a 26-year-old forward from Shakhtar Donetsk, a Ukranian team, and may become a permanent resident of Chicago as the Fire have an option for a permanent transfer.

He is expected to be ready to join Chicago next week and will be eligible to play in next Sunday's road tilt against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Castillo, a San Luis Potosi, Mexico, native, made 12 appearances for the Shakhtar Donetsk through 2009 and 21 appearances for Mexico's national team since 2007.

The Fire have lost four straight games, but will return to action looking for a win against Pumas UNAM on Tuesday.

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

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USA TODAY

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

Midfield has been an area of focus this offseason for Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and another new addition to that group was added on Monday.

The Fire have traded $400,000 in general allocation money in return for midfielder Dax McCarty from the New York Red Bulls. Paul Tenorio of Four Four Two first reported the trade.

McCarty was an All-Star in 2015 and part of the league's Best XI that season when he had eight assists to go with a goal. Last season he made 26 starts for the Red Bulls and totaled three goals and had five assists.

"Since the middle of 2016, we made acquiring Dax our No. 1 priority," Rodríguez said in the club's press release. "We believe adding his character and leadership in the locker room, as well as his exceptional soccer abilities on the field, dramatically improves our team."

The last time McCarty played at Toyota Park was a 2-2 draw on July 31 when a Khaly Thiam tackle caused a fractured tibia, which forced McCarty to sit out a month.

McCarty got married on Saturday, which delayed his arrival to the current U.S. national team camp. McCarty's participation in national team camp means he will join the Fire's preseason already in progress. The final match of the camp is on Feb. 3 while the Fire are set to start preseason on January 23.

McCarty, 29, has spent the past five and a half seasons with the Red Bulls. He began his career by playing five seasons for FC Dallas and was with D.C. United for part of the 2011 campaign before being traded to the Red Bulls. As an 11-year league veteran and the Red Bulls' captain, McCarty adds leadership and experience which Rodriguez has prioritized this offseason.

The Fire already added a former MLS All-Star in midfield this offseason in Juninho. The pair could line up next to each other in the preferred 4-2-3-1 coach Veljko Paunovic used for most of last season. This also could potentially put Matt Polster's role with the team in question. As the roster stands now, the third-year midfielder would be competing for two veteran All-Star caliber midfielders who were brought in at a high price.

Not to suggest a position move is in the works for Polster, but he did split time between midfield and right back with the Fire in 2015 under coach Frank Yallop and played there for the U-23 national team in Olympic qualifying. Right back remains a position of need by Rodriguez's own admission.

The trade also adds further context to the Fire trading the No. 3 pick in the draft on Friday. The Fire swapped the pick for $250,000 in general allocation money from New York City FC and Tenorio is reporting the Fire will send $400,000 to the Red Bulls for McCarty. To add those two moves together, the Fire dealt the No. 3 overall pick and $150,000 of allocation money for McCarty.

Daniel Johnson went on a winding journey to become the Fire's first pick

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USA TODAY

Daniel Johnson went on a winding journey to become the Fire's first pick

Daniel Johnson’s path to first round pick in Major League Soccer has taken a number of different paths.

It all led to Johnson being selected by the Chicago Fire with the No. 11 pick in Friday’s draft. As Johnson himself said, not many players have an easy path to the pros, but his youth career had a number of key turns.

For starters, Johnson headed to England at 13 years old to train in Premier League team West Ham United’s academy. He spent three years and a half years there, but had to come back to America after work visa issues ended his tenure there. (One of the noticeable things he held onto from his time in England is the way he says Premier League like the English with the short e in the word premier.)

Coaches at West Ham compared him to Joe Cole, who came up with West Ham and had 56 caps with the English national team.

“I learned so much about myself when I went over at 13," Johnson said. "I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did about myself off the field. I was over without parents and had to mature at an alarming rate really to survive and be successful. On the field, it was incredible being in that sort of environment and learn everyday being around pros. Being really a young pro because that’s what it takes to make it there.”

Being a young American in a well-respected Premier League academy and being compared to an English national team player gave Johnson a huge confidence boost. When he had to leave the club, it was a huge setback.

“I felt like I was successful over there and maybe was on track to have that sort of impact or have that sort of opportunity in the Premier League,” Johnson said. “Having that opportunity sort of taken away from me by factors outside of my ability on the field was devastating, honestly. That experience and dealing with that adversity taught me so much about how I deal with adversity and that everyone has a different path to their goals.”

[MORE DRAFT COVERAGE: Fire trade No. 3 pick to New York City FC]

When it came time for Johnson to pick a college to continue his career, he was now out of the loop. Johnson by his own admission knew “next to nothing” about college soccer, but was being recruited by Division I programs.

His dad was a baseball player at Maryland and his dad’s father also went to Maryland so that became the first school he visited. Johnson knew it was one of the top programs in the country. He met with coach Sasho Cirovski and committed early on.

In two years at Maryland he made just one start, struggling for time on talented teams. Maryland made the national championship game in Johnson’s freshman year in 2013 and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles in his sophomore year.

“He got stuck with a glut of midfielders,” Cirovski said on the league’s draft day broadcast. “Maybe he was a little young. We had some key guys in the midfield. (Current Toronto FC midfielder) Tsubasa Endoh in there and guys that played his position so he couldn’t get up there. We supported his decision to find a new place and he revitalized his career at Louisville.”

Johnson transferred to Louisville, but didn’t hold a grudge. When Johnson stood on the podium at the draft after being selected by the Fire he thanked both Maryland and Louisville.

“I wish I had done a little more research, but it was just a case of me not fitting into the system and a combination of different philosophies that Sasho and I had,” Johnson said. “We had a good relationship, but during my time there we were a really successful program so it’s really hard to make a case for changes, especially someone who is going to come in and really change your style when you’re being successful playing one way.”

Johnson got connected with coach Ken Lolla at Louisville, who Johnson said was focused on development. In two years with the Cardinals, he started all 41 matches and emerged as a pro prospect.

Earlier in his career Johnson had been a central attacking midfielder, calling himself a “10.” Lolla had him play out wide at Louisville. He said it’s been a learning curve to adjust to the position the past two years, but has become comfortable as a winger. His preferred spot is to play on the left wing and cut inside as a right-footed player, but he’s still learning to play both sides.

“I’m comfortable on the wing, playing more of an inverted winger on the left, but also being able to do some of the things that a more traditional winger does if I’m deployed on the right,” Johnson said. “Still working on my left foot and being able to provide those things on the left.”

[MORE DRAFT COVERAGE: Fire trade into second round to make two picks]

Johnson was a stand out at the combine, especially in the first game of the combine. Johnson drew and converted a penalty kick and had two assists in the first half. His draft stock seemed to soar in the week leading up to the draft. The attention Johnson was getting from around the league certainly went up, although general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the Fire had watched Johnson the past two years at Louisville.

“I think a product of combine performance I met with 20 teams so on Wednesday I started at 8 a.m. and skipped both breakfast and lunch and dinner,” Johnson said. “In the meeting process I think the longest time between meetings I had was 15 minutes so they ended up blurring together. Calling my mom that night and sort of giving her the update there were a few teams that stuck out, but Chicago was one that I remembered from the entire meeting.”

Johnson said it was his longest interview of the day.

“He has certain qualities that we think are different from the qualities that we have within the team right now,” Rodriguez said. “We think he can also slide inside and play a central role because he’s good on the ball and he’s a good decision maker.

“He has a real reverence for the game. He’s very descriptive in how he appreciates the game and the artistry of the game.”

Johnson’s winding journey has included two continents and two colleges. He thinks his background and skillset make him rare among young Americans.

“I feel like I am a unique case in terms of young American attacking players, especially being a product of an academy like West Ham and having unique training,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited to just get started and show what I can do.”