It's been a long journey for Collins John.
Bursting onto the scene in 2004 as a precocious 18-year-old, John quickly became a fan favorite at Craven Cottage. But despite displaying a solid strike rate and picking up two full international caps with Holland during his first year in the Premiership, the best was yet to come from John. He proved that with his 2005-06 season, which saw him lead Fulham with 11 league goals despite the fact that he only started 15 of the 37 games he appeared in.
Unfortunately for John, he has never been able to recreate the magic of 2005-06. He lost his place at Fulham, bounced around the second division of English soccer, failed to impress during a one-year loan with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, and - most recently - got cut from Belgian team KSV Roeselare. Now, John finds himself on-trial with the Fire, where he is hoping he can make a good impression and jumpstart his once promising career.
"I just needed a new spot," John said. "I have played in the big competition that is the Premiership. I've played in Holland, I've played in Belgium... but after this fall I just wanted to get far away from European football and I guess that's what brought me to MLS." "Hopefully I can do well here and play well in my auditions to the team and maybe I can play and maybe in a couple of years I can go back to Europe, but you never know. I may love it here and stay for the rest of my life. It's still early days. So far I'm enjoying my time here, I'm having a good training camp and hopefully I can score a lot of goals for Chicago this season."
If John is to rack up the goals for the Fire this season, he'll be doing it in his own way. Employing a playing style he compared to that of Juventus-striker David Trezeguet, John typically looks to use a quick first step to capitalize on the mistakes of defenders.
"Obviously we've got [Patrick Nyarko] as a striker and [Brian McBride] as a striker but I think I'm a different type than both of them," John said. "McBride is good in the air and Pat is a good dribbler and I think I'm a totally different player... You might not see me for 15 minutes in a game and all of a sudden I score a goal. I'm a hunter, I just wait for the moment and then I grab it."
While past managers have criticized John for attitude and fitness problems, he has received nothing but positive remarks from the staff in Chicago.
"Collins John is a proven guy," Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas said. "He's been at a high level when he was a young player and I think his additive results have been very good. He's been working very hard to get back to the fitness level that he knows he can be at and... he has a good attitude - he gets along with the other players. It's [only a few] days into it and we'll get to know more as the days go by but so far it's been very good."
For his part, John is looking at his chance to make the Fire as an opportunity for redemption. His career has fallen a long way since he was Fulham's top goal scorer in 2005-06 and he wants to get back to the form he knows he can play at.
"I'm still a young player; I'm just 24 years old. I just want to play football and put everything behind me," John said. "I've had a great career already. I've played for a lot of big clubs, I've got three caps and last year and a half hasn't worked out for me but I guess that's football. It's ups and downs. I've been down but I want to go up this year with Chicago. Hopefully I'm going to score a lot of goals this year and forget about everything that happened in '08 and '09. That's one of the key things in sports, if things don't go well for you then you have to try and forget things and work hard and get back to the level you want to be and that's what I'm doing right now."
It's clear to me that John has more than enough talent to be a great player in this league. The only questions for me are his work ethic and attitude. If he continues to get along with the Fire players and staff and continues to work hard to get his game up to snuff, then there is no reason why he shouldn't have success in Chicago. For now though, I'm going to remain a skeptic. With John - who hasn't exactly left his last two teams on the best terms - I'm going to have to see it to believe it.