Joey Calistri looking to break through with the Fire

Joey Calistri looking to break through with the Fire

There are a lot of young players on the Chicago Fire and only a few of them can get on the field right now.

The Fire have five rookies and four second-year pros, if you count 20-year-old Brazilian Rodrigo Ramos in the second-year group. Out of those nine players, Matt Polster enteredhe season as an established starter while Ramos and rookie Jonathan Campbell appear to have solidified themselves as starters for now.

Rookie Brandon Vincent started the first three matches, but hasn't played since. Joey Calistri and Alex Morrell, both rookies, have been able to earn late substitute roles on multiple occasions, but no starts. Rookie Drew Conner and second-year players Patrick Doody and Collin Fernandez haven't played at all although Doody and Conner are on loan with Saint Louis FC.

Just looking at that group, it shows how difficult is has been for the younger players on the team to earn regular minutes. When asked about Calistri specifically earlier this week, coach Veljko Paunovic spoke about the importance of giving playing time to young players.

"For him I think it’s important that he can go through this process of developing and getting minutes in the league, (for that) to go smoothly," Paunovic said. "We are working on that and as soon as he is ready and as soon as we believe he can help the team on the field we will not have any issue to make him play.

"We also have a lot of young, talented players that we want to mold them. We also know for the young players it is very important to have minutes and where we can’t give them those minutes we will look for opportunities to loan those young players so they can get either with our affiliate or with another club in the league where we can give them for a short-term loan. This is our approach for Calistri and all other young players that we have on the squad that are not having enough minutes. We believe that is important for young players."

Paunovic came to the Fire after coaching the Serbian U-20 team, which gives him youth development coaching experience. When he talks about getting young players minutes, he knows it's important.

Calistri subbed in after the 80th minute in each of the team's first three matches, but hasn't played since. With a stretch of four games in 11 days coming up in May, squad rotation will be necessary, but Paunovic said he doesn't expect Calistri's role to change much during that period.

"(Paunovic) just keeps preaching work ethic and hard work and keep working on my finishing, my killer instinct," Calistri said. "That’s stuff in training and when I get into a scrimmage that I try to focus on."

The former Northwestern forward is still learning the professional game and is trying to take advantage of his opportunities as they come, even if they are for less than 10 minutes at a time.

"It’s a great learning experience for me. I think that’s probably the most important part is that I’m learning a lot from all the guys and Pauno and the staff," Calistri said. "For me it’s all about work rate and energy and trying to bring a little spark. If I’m coming in in the 80th, 85th minute, most of the guys are going to be pretty tired. Just trying to run at some guys, get in behind, make it tough for the guys who have been out there."

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.