That must've been one hell of a scouting trip.
When the Chicago Fire wrapped up their worst-ever season under first-year head coach Frank Yallop, it was clear that Yallop intended to revamp the roster before 2015. To that end, Yallop was reported to be travelling around northern Europe, shaking hands and making connections in England, Sweden and Norway, among other destinations.
Now the signings are coming thick and fast for Yallop's Fire. Tuesday, it was new DP striker Kennedy Igboananike, signed from AIK in Sweden; Wednesday found left-sider Joevin Jones joining CF97 after a short loan spell in Finland. Today, reports from Norway indicate that Chicago native Michael Stephens, most recently on the books of Staebek in the Tippeligaen, will join the Fire for 2015 and beyond.
Stephens, 25, grew up in Naperville and attended Edison Academic Center before joining the IMG Academy in Florida. After an All-American collegiate career with UCLA, he was drafted in the first round of the 2010 Superdraft by LA Galaxy. With the Galaxy, Stephens had 92 appearances over four seasons, helping his side to the Supporters Shield in 2010 and 2011 as well as lifting the MLS Cup in '11 and '12.
After the 2013 season, Stephens signed a one-year contract with Stabaek, who are coached by former Fire and USA head man Bob Bradley. Despite unfamiliarity with the league, Stephens excelled in Norway, making 30 appearances for a Stabaek side that surprised the Tippeligaen with a top-half finish.
Now he comes home to wear the Fire badge for the first time since his summers with Chicago Fire Premier in 2007-8. Stephens fills a desperate need for all-round central midfielders, joining only Razvan Cocis and Matt Watson as players matching that description on the roster.
Hot (Time) take
Ok, if you're not feeling good about Frank Yallop now, maybe it's time for a hot bath and some cocoa or something. Three signings announced in the first week of December? And the third being a Chicago native playing overseas who fits a need in the roster? Igboananike may get more headlines in 2015, but if the Fire are to be good next year, it will be because of signings like this - prudent, rational improvements in the roster, sure, but also emotionally-connected players willing to take on a difficult project.
Michael Stephens, welcome home.