Media-shy Djordje Mihailovic gets a moment in the spotlight

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USA TODAY

Media-shy Djordje Mihailovic gets a moment in the spotlight

Djordje Mihailovic is a bit media shy so when a dozen reporters circled around him after the MLS Homegrown Game at Toyota Park, he was a bit flustered at first.

"Oh my word," he muttered aloud at the crowd of reporters facing him, microphones, cameras and phones pointed in his direction.

Mihailovic, the Chicago Fire's 18-year-old rookie homegrown midfielder, scored a goal in the first minute. The MLS homegrowns, comprised of players 20 years old or younger and signed out of MLS academies, played Chivas Guadalajara's under-20 team to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday in one of the support events for Wednesday's All-Star Game against Real Madrid.

“It’s every kid’s dream to score in front of the home crowd," Mihailovic said. "To play in the All-Star Game, represent the home club and home city, to score is another thing to add to that so I’m definitely honored and it was a great experience for me.”

Mihailovic roamed in different positions in a slightly unorthodox setup selected by coaches Brian McBride and Mike Magee, both former Fire players from Chicagoland, for a team that had just one training session together before playing the match. To start the match, Mihailovic played as the team's striker and delivered the early goal.

“It was important," McBride said. "An early goal, especially a new group of guys, it just gives you more energy. The game was pretty spread out and giving that early goal sort of I think caused them a little bit of, not concern, but question marks, and it gave us really the positive feedback of pressing early and winning those balls and going forward quickly.

"It was really, really good for us to get that early goal and I’m happy for Djordje.”

Another bonus for the Lemont native is that he had plenty of family there to watch him.

“There was a lot of family," Mihailovic said with a laugh. "My sister flew back from college to watch so I’m glad I scored in front of her.”

Mihailovic captained the team and found out right before the game. He said he was in shock at leading the team out of the tunnel to start the match.

After playing in just one game, totaling one minute, in the Fire's first 10 matches, Mihailovic has become a more regular sub under coach Veljko Paunovic. Mihailovic hasn't made a start yet, but has subbed into four of the last five Fire matches. As a result of the more regular playing time, Mihailovic said his confidence has gone up.

“It started about a month ago when I started continuously getting in games consecutively," he said. "Right now, scoring a goal, my confidence is definitely rising even more.”

Colorado Rapids defender Kortne Ford scored on a header on the last play of the game to tie the match. It sparked a big celebration for the MLS players.

“We’re here to have fun, but we’re also here to win because no homegrown team has won and a tie is a tie, but try to get the win because it’s a competitive game,” Mihailovic said.

Despite All-Star hype, Real Madrid focused on its preseason

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USA TODAY

Despite All-Star hype, Real Madrid focused on its preseason

Real Madrid is one of the biggest sports brands in the world and any time they visit an American city it's a big deal.

That's how Chicago and Major League Soccer are treating Los Merengues' appearance for the MLS All-Star Game. There's plenty of events, advertising and attention given to the All-Star Game to show what a big deal it is to MLS and soccer in Chicago.

However, for Real Madrid, the two-time defending UEFA Champions League winners, this is still just the preseason. On top of that, Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the two most famous and talented soccer players in the world alongside Leo Messi, isn't with the team.

"We want to end the preseason with a victory," German midfielder Toni Kroos said in a press conference before the match on Tuesday. "It's an important game. It's the last game before the real season starts, before the games count.

"That's why we are here, to win this game tomorrow, to prepare for the next games."

Madrid hasn't yet won in the preseason. Real has lost to Manchester United on penalties in Santa Clara, Calif., got smoked by Manchester City 4-1 in Los Angeles and lost to rival Barcelona in Miami.

While the team isn't going to worry about negative results in exhibition matches, a club used to winning with regularity won't want to go without a win on its four-match U.S. tour.

"It's only preseason, that's all," manager Zinedine Zidane said through a translator. "The most important thing is to finish (the preseason) well."

While the MLS All-Stars will be playing for the pride of their league. The value of a result in an exhibition game always has questionable, at best, value. It still can provide extra exposure to the league, who now boasts a solid collection of world famous players, and may give extra attention to the Chicago Fire in a resurgent season for the team.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, who is also coaching the MLS All-Stars, said playing against Real Madrid is "an occasion that you just cannot let go.” For Madrid, it's still just preseason, but playing the MLS All-Stars is strange because of the thrown-together aspect of the All-Star team.

"In terms of organization, I don't know how they're going to play," Zidane said. "What I do know is they're a very good team."

Pair of MLS All-Stars enjoy homecoming in Chicago

Pair of MLS All-Stars enjoy homecoming in Chicago

There’s plenty of Chicago Fire representation for the MLS All-Star Game, but there's also a couple more MLS All-Stars that are having a homecoming of sorts with the game in Chicago on Wednesday.

Michael Bradley, a Toronto FC midfielder and captain of the U.S. national team, grew up in Chicagoland while his father, Bob Bradley, coached the Fire in the club’s first five seasons. DaMarcus Beasley, a Houston Dynamo defender and veteran of four World Cups, began his career with the Fire and played four and a half seasons with the club from 2000 to 2004.

“Coming back to Chicago is always special for me,” Bradley said at a press conference Tuesday for the All-Star Game. “Some of the most important years for me growing up and growing up as a young player were here in Chicago.”

Bradley, who turned 30 on Monday, spent some of his junior high and high school years in Palatine. He played for youth club team Chicago Sockers while Bob Bradley was coaching the Fire.

Michael Bradley has fond memories of being around the team.

“I can remember coming to the old Soldier Field on Saturday nights and watching games, the atmosphere, at that time the league was so unique,” he said. “It had such a European feel to it. Obviously it helped that there was a strong Polish presence in the team, but certainly when I look back on my childhood and growing up, the time spent here was incredible. For me to come back as a player, whether over the years it’s been national team or now with the MLS All-Star Team, it’s always something that I really look forward to.”

Bradley played in Soldier Field last June with the national team during the Copa America Centenario. The U.S. beat Costa Rica 4-0 in that game.

For Beasley, returning to Soldier Field brings back different memories. Beasley, who is 35, played for the Fire under coach Bob Bradley when the Fire called the old Soldier Field home. He left to join perennial Dutch contender PSV Eindhoven in 2004 and played for four more clubs abroad before returning to MLS in 2014 to join Houston.

“I spent a lot of great years here, four years at the beginning of my career,” Beasley said. “The people, the fans, they were amazing to me and I enjoyed my time when I was here when I was younger. It’s good to be back, it’s good to feel the energy in Chicago and out in the city.”

Beasley, who is from Fort Wayne, Ind., still wants to see the Fire do well, although he was well aware that his Dynamo play the Fire in the regular season finale

“I’ll always want them to do well,” Beasley said. “Chicago, the Fire is always going to be in my heart and in my blood for the first team that gave me a chance to play. Hopefully they play 33 games well and the 34th game they don’t play so well when they play against the Dynamo.”