Fire add Conner, Calistri as Homegrown Players - Is it time for a USL squad?

Fire Academy Director Larry Sunderland may be gone, but the club will continue to see his efforts realized in first team additions over the next few years via the Homegrown Player rule. The latest players to be promoted to the big roster are University of Wisconsin midfielder Drew Conner, and Northwestern forward Joey Calistri. The pair are the seventh and eighth Homegrown signings in team history.

Both are seniors in their final years of college play that would have been eligible for January’s SuperDraft. Conner will most likely find his spot in the pro game as a holding midfielder. As a starter all four years at Wisconsin, he played several midfield positions and was the Badgers captain last season. Calistri struggled a bit to score in his senior year but did tally 30 times in his four years at NU.

It’s difficult to see them stepping in as immediate first year contributors and it’s likely that both could end up on loan with Saint Louis FC this coming season. The Fire sent several players to their USL affiliate last season but playing time wasn’t always readily available due to commitments to other players. Collin Fernandez, was loaned to Louisville City FC because the main affiliate had others in front of him. The team, and the careers of Homegrown Players would best be served by the formation of a full-time USL club for which the Fire could control and develop players who have graduated from the Academy, but that doesn’t appear to be an option for this season.

Fernandez, an attacking left midfielder, does have some potential at the MLS level but needs playing time to develop. He is currently on a training stint with La Liga club Villareal, which should provide a good learning opportunity for him. While on loan with Louisville City in 2015, Fernandez only appeared in 4 games, started once, and logged 130 minutes. That’s obviously not enough competitive time over the course of one year to expect substantial development.

Out of the five developmental players loaned out last season, only Patrick Doody and Alec Kann saw substantial playing time. Doody appeared in 21 games, started 18, and got 1654 minutes. Kann, who has since been selected by Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the Re-Entry Draft started 19 games in Saint Louis. Kingsley Bryce played sporadically, 10 games, eight starts and 671 minutes while Greg Cochrane logged 4 GP, 3 GS, and 310 minutes in short stays.

A Chicago USL squad would not only give the current crop of Homegrown Players a chance to develop under the watchful eye of Fire staff on a full-time basis, but it would also provide incentive to Academy players to stay with the Club and develop if they’re not headed for college soccer. There are potential Homegrowns in the pipeline currently playing or headed for NCAA teams. Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman, Mauricio Pineda, and Cameron Lindley are names that come to mind as prospects who are potentially capable of being important contributors to the first team, but they’re all currently at the freshman/sophomore levels. Lindley and Pineda, both regulars with the US U20 program, don’t begin at North Carolina until next year.

With both Nelson Rodridguez and Veljko Paunovic citing the importance of youth development in the evolution of the club, a USL squad would seem to be a logical next step. Conner, Calistri, and others will develop and contribute much more quickly and effectively with one.

Is it just a matter of time?

Filed under: 2015 Post season

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • The idea is good on paper, sure. How many players in 2016 do you think the Fire will have under contract that will need USL loans? Calistri, Conner, maybe a couple draft picks, maybe Kingsley Bryce again? Is that enough to justify a full team? Where would you put the team? I love the idea and you don't want to fall behind other teams that have done it already (11 if I can count). There's just a lot of questions to answer first.

  • In reply to Dan Santaromita:

    Yep. A lot of questions to answer, which is why this should have been in motion aready.

    It's not just about the players on the roster that are currently under contract. It's about planning for the future and giving your Academy kids a chance to develop into a first team player. If they aren't ready for college or the first team, a USL side would seem to be a perfect place for them. The current set up with an affiliate is a small upgrade over the old Reserve team set up if guys aren't going to play.

    This will be a big advantage for teams going forward, and something all MLS teams should invest in.

  • In reply to Dan Santaromita:

    The only question to answer is where are they going to play?

    Half the league, including pretty much all of the big spending teams, have come to the consensus that this is necessary. Not the Fire.

    You're new to the Fire beat Dan but you already sound like a mouth piece.

  • In reply to seaside:

    he's come up with reasonable questions. i get we are all frustrated with the fire, but let's not take unnecessary shots.

  • In reply to seaside:

    I'm with Dan and I have been here a long time. We don't have enough players right now to have a MLS team, let alone a USL team. This club is not ready for a USL team right now. We need to sort out the first team before we go and worry about a reserve team. We are so far behind the other first team teams that we need to focus on catching up to them before we try and catch up to them.

  • If the Fire have let's say 8-10 players that they have signed who need to play competitive games in order to develop and sending them to a USL affiliate where they do not play, then there needs to be a change because the goal is not to send kids to sit on the bench in St. Louis. The goal is to develop these players. Doesn't the Fire still have a PDL team? Can they blend the PDL team and a USL team so the kids can play in both when needed?

  • In reply to Krasov:

    They can't. If that were the case Sounders FC would have just sent their players to Sounders U23. The arrangement between MLS clubs and USL allows for MLS players to move back and forth.

  • The Fire have passed in Round 2 of the Re-Entry Draft.

    It looks like Kevin Alston and Jermaine Taylor were the only players selected, by Orlando City and Portland respectively.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    They've been pretty busy huh?

  • There is really no good reason to implement a USL squad outside PR for the dozen or so people who care. Any player who can't make it onto our 30 man roster or a good college program isn't worth keeping around.

  • In reply to iron81:

    Because no quality players ever needed development before they good break into a first team squad, huh?

    Nope Don, the question isn't "does the Fire need any avenue to develop players?" Its "Is a Fire USL team worth the investment or is a partnership with st. Louis enough?" Which I think is a fairly open ended question. There haven't been enough years of USL to be able to say whether teams that operate their own USL sides gain an advantage. So we'll see. But to say club development minutes are wasted is asinine. As per usual.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    Further (sorry for the double post), who can say the potential is better between the 28th guy on the roster and the first guy they had to cut to make 30?

  • In reply to iron81: getting actual playing time in competitive matches, under Club supervision, for players you've invested in via the Academy is a waste of time because they're not on the current 28 man roster or decided not to attend college?

    You do realize that some of those college players may choose to play for the USL side if it existed, in order to stay in the pipeline for a first team chance? You also may be able to cultivate useful depth from players who weren't necessarily "academy" kids.

    These kids need time to develop and they're not going to get there sitting on USL benches. They're all not going to be automatic starters on Saint Louis FC.

    You wouldn't want any of these 72 kids playing on a Fire2 side, ready and available if you needed them on the first team?

  • In reply to iron81:

    Than what's the point in funding an academy? What's the point in wasting funds on hundreds of players that will never make to the first team? Wouldn't it just be easier to poach players or just not have home growns at all?

  • Carlos Vela's agent shoots down MLS talk.....for now.

  • So, do you think Rodriguez's comments on a USL team are more of him keeping his cards close to his vest, or do you think the Fire really have little interest in starting one? Personally, I would love a USL side, but I wonder where they would play. The facilities at TP really wouldn't be good if you wanted to run it as a real team, not just an over-glorified reserve team (for example, the practice fields where I guess they would play have no attached locker room, no ability to sell tickets, no concession, etc - I'm not even sure there are lights there).

  • In reply to PadreJoe:

    MLS-operated teams don't always use the main team facilities. Portland 2, RBNY 2, Seattle 2, and Vancouver don't use the mothership stadia for games, for instance, though I'm not sure about where they practice. Games could be played at a local college facility - Loyola or DePaul might be an interesting choice if the team wanted to engage the North Side more. The Fire also has a nice facility on the north side with 2 outdoor and 5 indoor pitches. They could also put the team nearby if they wanted to - Vancouver's building a facility in New Westminster, about 15 miles from downtown.

    There are plenty of facilities in and near Chicago to support a USL side, if the Fire are willing to commit resources to it.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    The Fire don't own the north side facility. In fact if the first team practices there they have to rent the fields just like everyone else.

  • In reply to penapirata:

    Didn't know that. Still, the facility is good enough for their spring training. The point is that facilities are available should the Fire choose to start a USL team in the Chicagoland - or other - area.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    Or you could do what Philadelphia and Houston have done and have their USL controlled clubs appear in Bethlehem and Rio Grand Valley.

    Milwaukee is an hour north and still completely devoid of outdoor professional soccer...

  • In reply to seaside:

    I think it would be great if the Fire put their USL team in Milwaukee, Madison, Rockford or Peoria. It would be a great way to increase the fanbase. I always thought that MLS would follow NHL or MLB in their player development by creating a minor league farm system. I could envision MLS teams having teams in all the levels of US soccer (once the league is done with expansion). It would kill any hope of pro/reg, but I think it would be a great way of developing players.

  • I'm curious. What is a USL team anyway? Is it a professional team with a marketing budget and strategy that needs attract a fan base? Where would the Chicago team play? Rockford? Peoria? Would they be like a minor league baseball team that is obligated to take the players sent to it and relinquish players to the parent club when requested?

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    It worked once what the heck is the problem. Let the kids play in Naperville for a year or two while working on a permanent solution. I live in Colorado so I don't see the team much anymore, maybe this is too simple. It's like a 30 minute drive between Toyota Park and Naperville as well.

  • Moor gone, Beitashour gone, now Ashe gone....why aren't we picking up any of these veteran defenders? We need an entirely new backline. I don't understand the lack of activity thus far.

  • In reply to AJties:

    Don't rate Moor and Ashe is a LB, which is the only position that doesn't absolutely NEED to be filled by a new player.

    I'm a bit bummed that Beitashour is off the table, thought he would have been worth it to bring in, but other than that, I don't feel like the Fire missed out on much.

    Free agency and re-entry lists were pretty weak this season. And half the decent players just re-negotiated deals with their most recent team.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    You want JJ at LB? I think he is better suited as a LM...Doody/Ashe at LB and Jones/Accam at LM, i would have been happy with that

  • In reply to AJties:

    Ashe just signed for Columbus. Tick tock.

  • In reply to AJties:

    Im fine with JJ at LB. He was perfectly adequate there until the gold cup. He came back in a funk. Hes probably better at lm. But whatever.

  • So apparently Will Johnson will be going to TFC.

  • Guys I think that someone should give Nelson a call in New Jersey and remind him that he works in the mls and that he is managing the worst team in the league. He must think that the new coach is all the change that the teams needs. As I see it he basically has no back line, virtually no mid field and the worst bench in the league. Does he think that the draft and a few young Serbian players will satisfy the chicago professional fans?

  • Guys I just read a statement by will Johnson. He said that his decision to play for Toronto was because he wanted to have a chance at a championship. That certainly excludes hauptman' steam. Speaking of the team does anyone think that they will take a pass on the upcoming draft? They seem to be taking a pass on the good defenders that Toronto just signed. Maybe they will take a pass for allocation money

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    The college draft? Not a chance they pass there.

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    In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Just out of curiosity Guillermo, who would you take with the first pick in the draft (assuming all of the top GA targets declare)? I know we need defensive help and Yaro would be an awesome acquisition but do you think Herbers (or anyone else) projects to be a better player in the long run? I'm generally in favor of drafting the best talent available regardless of current roster composition but damn we need defensive help...

    Also I cannot even believe that acquiring a USL team is even up for debate or that folks think the Fire don't have time to worry about it this offseason... NR could easily hire an underling(s) to start this process now and if he won't then he clearly doesn't care about the future of this team past when his current contract expires. Youth development should be of the utmost importance...

  • In reply to Joe Brancato:

    If Yaro is there, I take him.

    I have to believe that Rodriguez is well aware of the need for a USL team despite his cautious public comments. He's a smart guy, he knows they need to do this and get it moving soon.

  • Two things excite me about the upcoming season: season ticket holders get early bird purchases for Copa America on June 7th and June 10th. Other than that, cannot say I am enthused about the team's steps taken so far.

  • Guillermo. It doesn't appear as if there is much life in the fire office. I know they are real proud about their business perfotmance But why in the earth did they take a pass on Moore and the left defensive wing from Vancouver? There is little or no press what in the earth is nelson doing? Doesn't he realize that pro teams need to have exposure?

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    Once Beitashour, Kah, and Schuler were taken off the board, I really didn't see any other names in Re-entry that screamed must have. All of those guys are pretty much still available if you want them.

    Moor is a decent player but I don't see him as much more than just a decent MLS center back. They need a stopper back there. He's not it.

    Let's see what they do once the window opens on Jan 1.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I'd like to see someone better than Moor myself. My fear is that we're going to look overseas to revamp our back line (2 CBs and RB - assuming we're going with JJ at LB), and end up with a whole line that needs to adjust to MLS next season. That would include Yaro if he's brought in. Berry was great his first season but without a certain German WC defender next to him... the Korean 2nd division beckons.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    Actually, you could say that USL beckons (he signed with the new Cincinnatti USL team.)

    I like the idea of a USL team as an addition to the academy-to-first team pipeline. The idea of expanding the brand into other city markets is rather appealing (ex. Milwaukee.)

    13 first-team slots to fill in a three-week window. January is going to be an interesting month.

    Until it was mentioned here, I had no idea that Fernandez was overseas on a training stint.

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    I'm not sure what training stint hasn't been talked up. It's a good opportunity for Fernandez to get some time with a La Liga side in practice.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    It seems like there's been a drop-off in news on the Fire web page since the season ended, more so than in years past.

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    I agree. Last year we had a flurry with the signings of Igboananike and Accam, rumors about Maloney, etc. Even in years before that, there was always fun stuff, esp from Jeff Crandall. This year... the preseason schedule!

  • Guys just heard that the fire front office is very concerned about season ticket holders ( like my company) not re upping their season tickets. What in the earth has happened to their PR department. You would think that at the least they could host a podcast to keep some news passing around. At this point it almost seems as if they have closed shop.

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    Good to see that I'm not the only one noticing the deafening silence.

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    You don't consider a picture of Gerard Butler in a Fire jersey "new"? I almost lost it when I saw that article... I just keep telling myself that NRod is playing everything very close to his chest and it kind of helps me sleep better at night...

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    This time of year can always be different. Last time around Christmas we had a number of signings, from DPs, to mid level and a Homegrown. Previous years, it was much more scaled back and things often happened in January or even at the start of preseason.

    I will say I always noticed the theme of "we only have x numbers of players on the roster" at any point of the offseason to be a constant. Sometimes things move faster and others it's slower. In this year's case, the Fire have a new GM and a coach who, despite having a basis in the league, probably needed a little time to get up to speed on the roster, contracts and coming to consensus with Nelson on who they should target.

    Just because something hasn't been announced doesn't mean things aren't in the works or lined up. A lack of news can feel discouraging, but sometimes that's just the way it works out. This year it's probably tougher for fans because teams seem to have been a bit more active than in the past, especially around the holiday.

    The good news is there's definitely room in the salary budget to bring some good players and it probably just means that January will be a very busy month. The new guys have asked for patience and it seems they mean it.

    Let's see what happens in the next 30 days.

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