How the Fire found David Arshakyan from a small club in Lithuania

How the Fire found David Arshakyan from a small club in Lithuania

It’s been an eventful past few weeks for new Chicago Fire forward David Arshakyan.

The 22-year-old Armenian signed with the Fire from FK Trakai in Lithuania just before Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window closed in early August. Upon receiving his visa and coming stateside, Arshakyan made his Fire debut off the bench Aug. 27 at D.C. United.

Just eight days after debuting for his new club, Arshakyan debuted for his country. He started in Armenia’s 1-0 loss at Denmark to kick off World Cup qualifying, which was his first senior national team cap after previously playing for the youth sides.

“First I’m happy to make a debut, but unfortunately we lost this game against Denmark,” Arshakyan said. “That’s a good experience for me.”

By leaving to play for the national team so soon after joining the Fire, Arshakyan still has not had much of a chance to settle in off the field. He’s with a new club in a new league in a country he had never been in before. That does not make for a quick transition.

“To be honest it’s not easy because it’s my first time in America so I have to get used to it,” he said. “For this weather, for these people. I think I need just more time and maybe after one, two weeks it will be easier.”

One thing he won’t have to worry about is a language barrier. Arshakyan, who was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is fluent and seemingly comfortable in English.

As for his knowledge of the league, Arshakyan said he had been hearing about MLS the past couple of years.

“In Russia everybody knows it’s developing very fast,” Arshakyan said. “I know that many famous players are playing here from famous teams like Drogba, Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo. So for me this league is a big opportunity to grow as a football player, to grow up and show that I am ready to play in big football.”

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Arshakyan’s background is not common for MLS players. Real Salt Lake’s Yura Movsisyan is the only other Armenian playing in MLS. On top of that Arshakyan was playing in Lithuania, which is not typically on the radar for MLS clubs.

However, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was able to spot Arshakyan. Paunovic noticed the 6-foot-4 forward through, as he put it, “the daily work that you have to do” of checking other leagues and other players.

“I saw a couple of games that he played,” Paunovic said. “I found him very interesting in terms of his soccer qualities. Of course the profile he has, a big guy who can keep the ball, who can score goals, which is most important for a striker. The profile is something what we need.”

Paunovic said Arshakyan’s skillset and his numbers for FK Trakai, 34 goals in 52 Lithuanian A Lyga matches, made him worth pursuing.

“We started to follow him,” Paunovic said. “He played very good and (later) we contacted him and contacted the club and the agent so everything went well.”

After Arshakyan’s acquisition was made official, general manager Nelson Rodriguez gave Paunovic “100 percent of the credit” on finding Arshakyan.

“I don’t even know how to quantify the number of games and the number of countries that Pauno watches over the course of a week, less over the course of a month or the course of a year,” Rodriguez said on Aug. 4. “He started to look in other leagues that he thought players could easily adapt from and towards our league. In doing that he found David. He started to watch video, he made calls to connections of people that he has in that part of the world. We had David scouted in person in his last game where he scored a hat trick.”

It makes sense for a coach to watch other leagues in search of talent to bring into the team, but Lithuania? Lithuania has the 48th-highest UEFA coefficient out of 54 counties. The UEFA coefficient is used to allocate spots in European club competitions and is the closest thing to a league ranking system. In other words, it’s not the first place most would look.

“Honestly, we are checking everything,” Paunovic said. “It always comes from you have to look for international level players. He has been playing for the national team, under-21 before that, now with the national team with the senior team.”

Now, Fire fans will have to see what Arshakyan can do in MLS. He rejoined the Fire in training this week after his stint with Armenia.

“I have to score goals,” Arshakyan said. “I have to create chances. That’s my role.”

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?


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.