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Free agency was something new for MLS veteran Harrington

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Free agency was something new for MLS veteran Harrington

For the first time in his nine-year Major League Soccer career, Michael Harrington had some control over where he wanted to play.

Negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement a year ago led to the first intraleague free agents in MLS this offseason. The 30-year-old defender was a part of the first MLS free agency class.

After going through that process for the first time and talking to multiple teams, Harrington landed with the Chicago Fire, which is his fourth MLS club. His first journey through free agency left a good impression.

“It was awesome,” Harrington said. “I’ve moved around a little bit here, but it was nice to be able to choose, to talk to different teams, listen to different things and make my own choice.”

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General manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic were part of the draw to Chicago, but Harrington said he talked to “quite a few teams.”

“Just trying to get as much information as you can to make the best decision possible,” Harrington said. “There’s a ton of different factors that go into making that kind of decision. One of the bigger reasons was just the conversations that I had with Nelson as well as Pauno. It seemed like I’d be a good fit for what they’re trying to do. My versatility and things like that. They like that I can play in multiple spots.”

Versatility has definitely been something that both Rodriguez and Paunovic have repeated as one of the things they have looked for in players this offseason. Players who can comfortably play in multiple spots on the field create extra depth and allow for tactical flexibility during a match, which is another thing Paunovic has vocally prioritized.

“You want to go somewhere where people value you for the good things that you possess, the good qualities that you have,” Harrington said. “It seemed like they had done the research and done their homework on me. They knew what they were getting and that makes you feel good, it makes you feel comfortable.”

The Fire’s draw to Harrington was a need for experience at outside back. the four other outside backs currently in camp with the Fire have a combined seven MLS appearances. In addition to his experience, Harrington brings some versatility having played at both left and right back.

[MORE: Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line]

As someone who has moved from club to club a few times in his career, Harrington has a sharper view of the business side of the game. After sticking with Kansas City for six years, Harrington admitted to developing a skewed perspective. Two shorter stints with Portland and Colorado followed and gave Harrington a different view.

“I was in Kansas City for six years to start my career so I maybe had an almost false sense of how things are a little bit,” Harrington said. “Obviously I was in Portland for two good years and I thought I was going to be there for much longer and it ended up not working out. Then Colorado just for one season. It’s been a lot lately. A lot more moving than I anticipated, but I intend to make it stick here.”

He’s a veteran of the league, but was a rookie to being a free agent. Still, when he entered into free agency, nothing caught him off guard.

“No big surprises,” Harrington said. “General managers have their job that they’re trying to do and us as players we’re trying to do the best that we can for ourselves so it’s a bit of a battle there. It’s a business. That’s the business side of the game.”

As the Fire continue their preseason, Harrington appears to be in line to get plenty of playing time this season and could be the first choice right back. His MLS experience will also be important considering that even the experienced professionals at center back that just joined the club, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof, are new to the league.

“At the end of the day, Chicago was the clear option,” Harrington said. “Chicago is a good soccer town, a good city and I just thought it was the best fit.”

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.