Jon Bakero was one of the most exciting players in the 2018 MLS draft class. He scored goals for fun at Wake Forest and went on to win the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best collegiate soccer player in the country. Bakero had a footballing pedigree as well, as the son of former Barcelona player José Bakero. He was so highly touted that some experts saw him as a potential star in the making. The Chicago Fire seemed to have agreed with this sentiment, as they traded up to get the 5th pick in the draft just to get Bakero.
He has only played 30 minutes for the club this season.
It’s hard to figure out when things went wrong. Bakero never even got a chance to get his Fire career started. He didn’t see the field for the teams first four fixtures and was only given five minutes off the bench against the LA Galaxy. He got his biggest chance two weeks later against Toronto FC but that was only 15 minutes. It would be another month and a half until he got to see the field again, when he came in for the final 11 minutes against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Last night’s game against the Philadelphia Union might’ve been the final nail in the coffin. Diego Campos got the start on the right wing but had to be moved back to right back when Kevin Ellis limped off the field, with Veljko Paunovic opting to sub in Elliot Collier to fill the void in the attack. The Fire were chasing the game late on, down a goal with five minutes remaining but still had a substitution available. As the only other attacking option off the bench, surely Bakero would be the last man to come on. Pauno opted to send in Tony Tchani instead.
Bakero did get the chance to impress away from the Fire when he was briefly loaned out to the Tulsa Roughnecks during the season. The rookie made the most of his opportunity with the USL side, scoring twice and assisting once in three games, including a last minute equalizer. It’s a shame that he wasn’t allowed to build off that with the Fire— he was back on the bench when he returned to Chicago.
Bakero not getting an opportunity in this team is especially odd considering the players coach Paunovic has opted to use instead. It’s not like the Fire are stacked going forward— Bakero simply has to settle with sitting in favor of bigger names, with Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai are the only constant figures in the Fire attack.
Elliot Collier, who was taken 42 picks after Bakero, has somehow played for 784 minutes more. He did get off to a promising start, but a rebound goal against Minnesota has only seemingly masked the problems with the player. Collier is absolutely woeful in the final third. He loses the ball on the dribble, can’t pick out the killer pass, and might be the least convincing finisher in the league. He continues to waste chances given to him, but Paunovic continues to choose the New Zealander over Bakero.
Diego Campos was another late round pick by the the Fire who has seen the field much more than Bakero. To his credit, the Costa Rican has been quality at times, and had linked up well with Katai and Nikolic in the past. Yet in recent games Paunovic has opted to play him as a right back.
Alan Gordon has been the backup to Nikolic all year, which isn’t too bad of a problem when he just comes in for the final minutes of a game when the Fire need a goal. However, the fact that Gordon has started a number of games is an issue, considering the age and ability of the player.
Hell, even Jonathan Campbell has gotten more minutes up top than Bakero at this point.
Unfortunately, opportunities are only going to be harder to come by as the season goes on. Usual attacking starters, like Luis Solignac and Michael De Leeuw, are set to return from injury over the coming weeks. It’s also a probability that the Fire will bring in another forward piece during the transfer window, with young Polish winger Przemek Frankowski the most prominent rumor at the moment. If Bakero can’t get any minutes with the current roster of players, he’ll have almost no chance once the reinforcements come in.
There is still some time left before that happens, which allows Paunovic a few more matches to give Bakero a deserved run in the team. If not, Bakero will become the latest addition to a growing list of promising young Fire players who had to build their careers elsewhere.