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USA TODAY

Thrown into the Fire: Christian Dean hoping fresh start will benefit his career

It didn’t take long after Christian Dean was traded to the Chicago Fire for him to see significant playing time.

Dean was acquired by the Fire in a trade from Vancouver on Aug. 9, the last day before trade deadline, and has already made two appearances totaling 175 minutes. He was thrown into the deep end in Montreal after Joao Meira went down with an injury five minutes into that game, which took place a week after the Fire traded for him.

On Saturday, Dean made his first start with the Fire. He played all 90 minutes in the 3-1 loss to Toronto FC, in which he had the assignment of defending national team striker Jozy Altidore.

Despite jumping straight into the mix in a playoff race and getting playing time right away, Dean said the transition hasn’t been difficult.

“It’s actually been very easy,” Dean said. “The guys are very welcoming. I think the coaches are welcoming, the staff is welcoming so I really enjoy it here.”

Dean was added to give the Fire extra depth at center back. Before he arrived the team had only three, Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell. Dean got the starting nod ahead of Campbell on Saturday.

“He’s a player that we have eyed and scouted for a long time,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Tuesday. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work in a certain environment and we know Vancouver put a lot into Christian and had high hopes for him and worked hard with him, but he had a rash of injuries that probably hurt his time there, but he’s still very young. We still believe he has a lot of high level qualities. He’s very good on the ball, he’s a very good decision maker. He’s got great athleticism. He has a hunger for the game and he’s a good person. Time will tell. We didn’t acquire him with just six months in mind, but how long that extends will in large part be determined by how we interpret his performance.”

Dean, 24, was the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft. Playing time was limited in Vancouver, partially due to injuries. A broken bone in his foot cost him the entire 2016 season. Another foot injury, this time a stress reaction in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot suffered in training on April 25, kept him out of the rotation for the Whitecaps after he started three of the team’s first five games this season.

“I’m feeling really good right now,” Dean said. “This is the most healthy I’ve felt in the past two years. I’m just trying to take my opportunity.”

Soccer wasn’t always the focus for Dean. As he put it, he grew up in a basketball family. His half-brother, Josh Huestis, plays in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

At 6-foot-3, Dean stands out on a soccer field due to his size. When asked if he can dunk, Dean responded with a laugh, “Oh yeah.”

Despite playing a lot of basketball growing up, Dean made the decision to focus on soccer.

“I think when I was like 16 I realized I really actually wanted to play soccer,” Dean said. “I went into college thinking I was just going to enjoy my time playing in college and I started playing well there and got opportunities.”

After three years at Cal, Dean got a Generation adidas contract, making him an early entry player into the draft.

Dean said he fits into coach Veljko Paunovic’s style, which, as he described it, is to play the ball out of the back and through midfield.

His move to the Fire has given him a fresh start and another chance to get regular MLS minutes.

“I’m very, very happy that the club wanted me,” Dean said. “It seems the players really want me.”