The Fire probably won’t be able to put out an entire team made of area natives, but they’re getting closer.
One day after announcing the signing of Naperville’s Michael Stephens, the Fire acquired the rights of first refusal for defender Eric Gehrig from Orlando City for a second-round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. Gehrig, 26, spent the last four seasons with the Columbus Crew but was taken by Orlando City in the 10th round of Wednesday’s expansion draft.
He played in a career-high 20 games this season and made 14 starts but was out of contract with the Crew.
“Eric’s got good MLS experience and will bring versatility to our back line,” Fire coach Frank Yallop said in a news release. “I’ve always liked the style he plays. He’s solid, works hard and is coming here to push for a place in our lineup.”
Gehrig, whose home town is listed as Crown Point, Indiana, was born in suburban Harvey and played college soccer at Loyola from 2006-2009. He joins Stephens, Mike Magee, Harry Shipp, Chris Ritter and Collin Fernandez as Fire players with area ties.
“Honestly, there aren’t any words to give justice to how thrilled I am to come back to Chicago,” Gehrig said. “The Fire have been in my blood since I was a kid in the stands at Soldier Field watching Piotr Nowak and Josh Wolff. I’ve worked hard throughout my career, this is something I’ve always had in the back of my mind and I can’t believe it’s actually happening.”
Gehrig also fills a need for the Fire in the center of their defense. They declined the options on central defenders Bakary Soumare and Patrick Ianni, and captain Jeff Larentowicz only moved to the position during the second half of the 2014 season.
Also on Wednesday, the Fire passed in the MLS waiver draft. Their three players available – Matt Fondy, Marco Franco, Florent Sinama-Pongolle – were not taken.