Chris Mueller takes winding road from Schaumburg to Fire

Mueller wasn’t a part of the Fire’s youth program and was passed over by his hometown team in the MLS draft before finally signing with them earlier this month.

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Chris Mueller joined the Fire in May.

Courtesy of the Fire

Winger Chris Mueller is a local product whose career has had its ups and downs. Despite his Chicago-area roots, the Fire had only been a footnote in his life before he joined them on May 5.

A Schaumburg native, Mueller signed with the Palatine-based Sockers FC Chicago youth program when he was a grade-schooler. As he continued to develop, Mueller grew more and more loyal to Sockers FC, who gave his mother a job during a difficult time for the family and provided him with a place to display his talent and potential.

Meanwhile, the Fire weren’t heavily recruiting Mueller for their youth program, so he remained with Sockers FC.

“I had good interest from colleges, and I had a good platform for playing anyway,” Mueller said. “So I just stuck with the academy there.”

Indeed, Mueller had college options and spent four seasons at Wisconsin. Then during the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the Fire had a chance to snag Mueller with the fifth overall choice but took attacker Jon Bakero.

Mueller was picked sixth by Orlando City.

“I definitely didn’t have any thoughts in my mind at the time like, ‘Oh, man, I can’t believe [the Fire] passed on me,’ ’’ Mueller said. “I was more just open to the whole thing. I had no idea when I was going to get picked, where I was going to get picked. I just kind of went with the flow, so it was no sweat off my back.”

While Mueller said he didn’t have any hard feelings about being snubbed by his hometown club, perhaps Fire fans did. Bakero never made an impact in MLS, while Mueller became a dangerous winger in Orlando, earned two caps with the U.S. national team and eventually transferred to Scottish side Hibernian FC.

Things in Scotland didn’t exactly go as planned for Mueller. He signed a pre-contract with Hibernian in July 2021, but by the time he joined in January, the manager he expected to play for had been dismissed.

That tumult wasn’t helpful. Mueller had one goal in 15 appearances and played a different role than he first anticipated. He also received a backhanded compliment from Hibernian executive Ben Kensell when the club announced his departure to the Fire.

“Chris has worked extremely hard in training since he arrived but has found it difficult to adapt to the pace and physicality of the Scottish Premiership, which has severely limited his game time,” Kensell said.

But, like with other experiences in his career, Mueller is taking his Scottish adventure in stride. He was immersed in another culture and learned about himself as a player and a person.

“It was a positive experience because of how I came out on this side now,” Mueller said.

The Fire are glad he came to Chicago. They hope his skill, speed and ability to stretch opposing defenses and latch on to long passes from Xherdan Shaqiri and Gaston Gimenez will ignite a flagging attack.

“We are very happy to have him, and he’s a great addition to the team,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said.

For somebody who grew up in the northwest suburbs, Mueller has traveled a lengthy path to reach Soldier Field.

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