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.
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.”