The Fire have a few rookies in position to be contributors to the team early on in 2018, but one of them has a head start on his fellow newcomers to the team.
Grant Lillard signed a homegrown contract with the team on Jan. 10, but as an academy product the start of preseason training this week wasn’t his first exposure to the first team. Lillard got to train with the Fire last summer in between his junior and senior seasons at Indiana.
“It definitely helps being a little acquainted with everyone coming over this summer,” Lillard said. “The Fire were really generous to give me an opportunity to come in and play for a month. I got to get to know a few guys through that. There are a lot of new faces and it’s nice playing with some old guys and then seeing some new guys, too. But it definitely helps you feel more acclimated and it’s easier to just play my own game and focus on what I need to do.”
Lillard stands out among the group, but that’s mostly because of his size. At 6-foot-4, Lillard is an imposing figure. He is also a left-footed player, which could help him win the left center back spot next to Johan Kappelhof on the Fire’s back line.
As the roster currently stands, he will be up against Jonathan Campbell and Christian Dean for that spot. Lillard wouldn’t admit to any competition or anything beyond getting settled in the professional game.
“It’s been a lot of fun just getting to know the guys, getting used to how everyone is playing, seeing some movements,” Lillard said. “Just all the basic stuff, kind of getting my feet on the ground and seeing which way is what, but it’s been fun. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time and just to be able to get out and play with the guys has been a lot of fun.”
Lillard, a Hinsdale native who comes to the Fire after a four-year career at Indiana in which he was an All-American, said the coaching staff hasn’t spoken to him about anything specific yet. The goal is just to get him to play his game and show he belongs.
“Obviously the level is higher, but that’s the fun part, coming and playing with all the guys that the Fire have on this team,” he said. “It’s more competitive, the pace is faster. It’s the next level of soccer, professional football and it’s fun.”