The past is a foreign country.
When the Chicago Fire plucked a skinny, 22-year-old Costa Rican kid named Gonzalo Segares from the MLS SuperDraft, George W. Bush was a week from being sworn in for his second term as US President. The Incredibles and Million Dollar Baby were in the movie theatres. Millennium Park had been open for about six months; Toyota Park was a concrete-and-steel-ringed hole along Harlem Avenue.
Segares wasn't the first player taken by the Fire that year, nor the second; in fact, he was fourth, behind Chad Barrett, Will John and Chris Rolfe. He joined a team that was still led by Fire legends Chris Armas and C.J. Brown, and quickly moved into the left-back slot he'd make his own for the next decade.
With the exception of a brief sojourn to Cyprus - call it an eight-month sabbatical - Segares has been a fixture in the Fire first XI for 10 seasons. Astute, aggressive and passionate, he's worn the Fire badge like a family crest; he's fought for it, wept over it and lifted it in jubilation toward a howling Section 8.
He - along with fellow retiree Logan Pause - became the last connection between the current team and the last one that won a trophy. But Segares isn't hanging up his boots entirely; he'll just wear them out much more slowly as a coach for the Fire Academy.
From all of us at Hot Time, we'd like to say thank you, Gonzalo. We'll miss your grit and wisdom on the left flank, the way you'd knife in under a winger, suddenly bursting into the area; the way you'd pinch in to recover possession; the way you'd get stuck in on a guy who'd caused you problems. You came to us from Costa Rica, but you're Chicago through and through.
It can be difficult to recall a standout moment from a player known for his consistency. In the case of Gonzalo Segares, that's not a bad thing. His lack of highlight reel moments is not an indictment of his skill, but a rather a testament of the selfless and steady play that made him a fan favorite.
No matter the teammates he was paired with on the back line and along the left flank, Segares always found a way to develop a chemistry with anyone on the pitch. He didn't have the flashy look and speed of a DeAndre Yedlin or the big-play threat of a Seth Sinovic, but his professional approach did not go unnoticed by his peers or fans of the game.
He is one of only two men to be rated as the top left back by Soccer America in three different years.
While it is easier to speak of Segares' accomplishments and value to the club in general terms, I tried my best to recall a standout game for the Costa Rican. Though it is likely not his best or most meaningful game, I recall a memorable game against New York in June of 2012. Perhaps it is because it is a fairly recent game and one in which he scored a goal that stood out, but upon going back and researching it; the game did hold some meaning.
What I remembered about the game without prompting was Segares' impressive goal. From his position on the field to the way he roofed the goal with some authority, it was an uncharacteristic offensive explosion for Sega. After going back to look at some of the details of the game, it was also a pretty special win at the time.
Chicago was in a rough stretch, losing three of its last four games and fighting for a playoff spot. New York was coming to Toyota Park red hot, having won five of its last six and drawing the other. The game was 1-1 heading into the 65th minute, and what I had forgotten was an unbelievably poor disallowed goal call by the referee moments before Sega struck.
New York had cleared a ball from Oduro that clearly crossed the line, but the ref awarded a corner to Chicago instead of the goal. The Men in Red were collectively outraged. A couple minutes later, Segares was involved in the unexpected, crafty interplay near New York's penalty area that led to the laser goal and a 2-1 lead that would ultimately be sealed by a Chris Rolfe goal.
I remembered only the Segares goal at first because it was so different to see from him. But after going back to see all that surrounded that game and moment, I think it is a fitting example of Segares' larger career. When the team needed to stop a slide, instill some hope in the fan base that playoffs were possible and bring the kind of joy that only comes from toppling the hottest team in the league on your home field - it was Segares who provided.
Coming out of VCU and being drafted by the Fire in 2005, I had no idea the impact that Gonzalo Segares would have on this team, on this community, and on what I have come to expect out of players that wear the cf97 badge.
He quickly cemented his spot at left back in 2005 and never gave it up - even after that short stint in Cyprus early in 2010, he came back later that year for his second stint with the Fire. He played with heart and a tenacity that led to him earning plenty of yellow cards but those cards left the opposing players fearful of attacking down his side of the field.
His constant professionalism on the field was also shown off the field. The one time that I was fortunate to meet him will always stick out when I think of his Chicago career. On April 2nd, 2011 the Fire held their yearly "Meet the Team" gathering at ChiTown Futbol and this was probably the last time one of these actually felt like a meet the team and not an autograph signing.
I remember it well because Gonzalo was probably the only player that day that disregarded the rules of that day, either you get an autograph or a picture with the players and that was it. Gonzalo was signing things for the fans and having pictures taken with them but he would actually talk to them for a bit too. Even if it was a short conversation you could tell how much he wanted to make the fans happy. Yes, that day I did have one of my Segares jerseys signed by him and I was fortunate to have a picture as well, but the short conversation we had meant more than any autograph can. Segares will always be a Fire great in my mind.
I can't single out one Gonzalo Segares memory. His first stint with the team started in my late teens when I was trying to get back into MLS and the Fire. Even though I didn't dive into the team on a daily basis at the time - like I do now - Sega was one of the players I really latched onto. When I read he was moving abroad to play, I was more than disappointed. It occurs to me now, as I write this, that it was the first time I felt a deep connection to anything Chicago Fire. I'm glad his stint in Cyprus didn't take too long, and that he found his way back to Chicago. I can't thank him enough for his years of service and for being one of the roots of my Fire fandom.
For me, I don't have one single most powerful memory of Segares and I think that's fitting. There was no one game we could all look back on and say "man Segares really get us those three points". That's not a knock on him in slightest. Throughout his years on the Fire, Segares was one of the hardest working players on the team and brought his intensity in every game. He always gave it his all and truly cared. To me, Segares fits into the category of player that every coach wish he could have more of that type of player. I wish him in the best and look forward to seeing what does next.
Have a favorite Gonzalo Segares memory? Please use the comments area to share!