The Fire haven’t said if they’re trying to focus on players with Chicago ties. At this point of the offseason, it feels like it.
To defender Eric Gehrig, playing for the hometown team adds to the motivation. Gehrig, a Crown Point, Indiana native who was born in Harvey and played at Loyola, knows what the Fire once were. He remembers what it was like when the Fire were one of Major League Soccer’s elite teams, not one near the bottom of the Eastern Conference that set a league record for ties.
“I think it’s very important. I think it makes a difference,” Gehrig said. “I’m from around here. I grew up with the club. I’ve been around the likes of C.J. Brown, Chris Armas, Logan Pause. Those are guys that gave everything for the club and they know what it meant to wear the Fire badge.”
Gehrig, whose right of first refusal was acquired Wednesday from Orlando City SC for a second-round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft, will likely be one of at least six locals on next season’s squad. If Gehrig signs a contract as expected, he’ll join area natives Mike Magee, Harry Shipp, Chris Ritter, incoming Homegrown player Collin Fernandez, and recently acquired Michael Stephens on the 2015 team.
Gehrig – who after the trade tweeted a photo of himself from his youth wearing a Fire jersey at Soldier Field – figures that local flavor can’t hurt.
“This club belongs near the top of the league, in the upper echelon,” Gehrig said. “I think guys locally have experienced that themselves and it means that much more to them. You give everything you have every time you wear the badge. I think it definitely makes a difference.”
The Fire will be looking for Gehrig to make a positive difference in 2015. He will at least add depth to their defense and also some grit, both of which were lacking this year.
Despite that, he didn’t think the 2014 team was that far away from better results. He thought they were “a little unlucky in certain situations in different games” but likes the roster and the other additions this offseason.
“I think maybe they were just missing a few things here and there. They weren’t far away from it,” said Gehrig, who spent the last four seasons with the Columbus Crew. “I know that the coaching staff and the players are looking forward to turning that around and getting back to the playoff hunt and competing for the championship.
“I think we’re not that far away and I think with the signings that I’ve seen, I think those are exciting players as well,” he added. “I think hopefully those things can come together and this year can be a promising year and we can celebrate some things.”
NOTES: According to reports in Mexico, Fire Designated Player Juan Luis Anangono will be joining Liga MX’s Club de Fútbol Leones Negros de la Universidad de Guadalajara. The Fire haven’t commented on Anangono’s status.
— Six Fire players – Patrick Ianni, Hunter Jumper, Steven Kinney, Sanna Nyassi, Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare – are available in MLS’ re-entry process. Sixty-two players in total could be selected via re-entry, which begins Friday with the Stage One draft. Midfielder Alex opted out of the re-entry process.