Austin Berry wasn’t even two years removed from winning Major League Soccer’s rookie of the year award. He was a fan favorite and trying to impress new Fire coach Frank Yallop.
Then, on Feb. 25, as he was about to step onto a practice field in Tucson, Ariz., Berry was told he was gone — traded to the Philadelphia Union for allocation money. The Fire said it needed to move him for salary-cap reasons.
On Saturday, he returns to Toyota Park with the Union (1-1-2), settled in but still surprised to be a former Fire player. There was little indication before the preseason, Berry said, that his spot with the Fire was in doubt.
‘‘No, not at all,’’ he said, ‘‘and that’s what me and my agent had talked about . . . because it was kind of funny because I just moved into a new apartment three days after I got traded. I thought I was going to be in Chicago for a little bit. So it was definitely a shock when I got traded.’’
The shock has worn off for Berry as he has had other things to worry about. After playing every minute in 2013 for the Fire, he has missed the Union’s last two games with a hamstring issue, though he says he’s 100 percent ready to return to the lineup Saturday.
The Fire (0-1-3) also has moved on. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare have formed a solid pairing of central defenders, though the team has come away with ties in three straight games and hasn’t won yet.
The Berry deal was part of one of the bigger themes of the season so far. This week, the Fire traded veteran forward Chris Rolfe (and his high salary) to D.C. United for allocation money. There has been ongoing talk of Mike Magee getting a new deal and a hefty raise, while Yallop and technical director Brian Bliss spoke repeatedly during the preseason about the tight salary-cap situation.
‘‘[The Berry trade] was a trade we had to do,’’ Yallop said. ‘‘Anything you do, whether you want to do it or not, if you have to do it, you do it and you don’t worry about it. He’s a nice kid. He played well here, but he’s off to his new team.’’
Berry understood the reasons weren’t all about soccer.
‘‘I think it’s already been said: They were up against the cap space,’’ he said. ‘‘It was kind of just a real brief conversation, really didn’t tell much. [Going to Philadelphia] was a good opportunity for me.’’