To say Joey Calistri has some history and ties to the Chicago Fire is putting it mildly.
The Northwestern product and Deerfield native joined Drew Conner as brand new homegrown players to sign professional contracts on Thursday, but it merely continues years of being in the club’s system for Calistri.
Calistri started playing soccer around four or five years old and after playing for a local club, he moved to Fire Juniors. He has stayed with the club ever since.
“You can check off all the boxes,” Calistri said. “I went through Fire Juniors and Fire Academy. In college summers, I went through Fire PDL. I actually even interned with the Chicago Fire front office last summer. I’ve been around the club for a while now.”
Calistri graduated from Northwestern two quarters early with a degree in communications with a concentration in marketing. Last summer, he was a communications intern with the club, practicing in the morning and working in the afternoon. He graduated with a number of academic awards, twice being named Academic All-Big Ten and earning a 4.0 grade point average in his final quarter.
As for his play, Calistri finished his four-year career at Northwestern second in the program’s all-time goal-scoring list with 30. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound forward also notched 10 assists in 68 appearances and was an All-Big Ten honoree all four years, earning first-team honors as a freshman and sophomore and second-team honors as a junior and senior. In his time with the Wildcats, Northwestern made the tournament three times, including a first round loss to new Fire teammate Matt Polster’s Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in 2014.
"Joey's whole career has been a testament to hard work," Northwestern head coach Tim Lenehan said in a press release from the school. "He leaves Northwestern as one of the best players we have ever had here … That same work ethic that has helped Joey have such success at Northwestern will no doubt serve him well at the professional level.”
When describing his play, Calistri emphasized that work ethic.
“I know that the main reason why I’ve gotten where I am is because of my work ethic,” Calistri said. “That’s something that’s very apparent in my game, whether that’s tracking back defensively or chasing down defenders. I think that’s something I always pride myself on. In addition to that, attacking wise, I like being dynamic and trying to make runs off the ball and trying to get behind defenses and making them uncomfortable.”
As for how Calistri will fit into the Fire’s plans in 2016 remains unclear. The club currently only has 15 players under contract and Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike are the only true forwards on the roster.
Calistri had kept in touch with technical director Brian Bliss, who coached the PDL team Calistri played on in the summer. Coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez reached out a few days ago by phone to give Calistri the good news.
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“They seem very dedicated to turning this club around,” Calistri said. “Obviously you can tell that they have a lot of energy and they definitely seem like they have some good ideas going forward. I know they’re going to put a lot of work into making this a successful club.”
For now, Calistri is preparing for the upcoming season. He already had a workout at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch after the signing was announced on Thursday.
“I’m just excited to get started,” Calistri said. “It’s still a bit surreal right now. It’s something that I’ve worked for ever since I was a kid. I can’t remember when it was first a dream, but it’s always kind of been where I want to be. For it to actually happen is a dream come true. That’s kind of an understatement.”