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The Kids Are Alright

A promising young core of Fire players are beginning to step up

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Chicago Fire at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As Major League Soccer continues its metamorphosis towards a youth-movement based on potential and raw talent, the Chicago Fire look well poised for the next generation as their strong core of young, talented players continues its trial by fire (pun very much intended), challenging themselves against the league’s best every week.

Chicago has been good about allowing its young players to grow and develop in the past. Harry Shipp and Brandon Vincent were given extensive playing time from 2014-2015 and 2016-2018, respectively. These plentiful early minutes fast-tracked their career growth as they proved their talent on the pitch. It appears Chicago will continue to believe in this approach, and feel that head coach Veljko Paunovic, the former Serbian U-20 coach, is the right man to help develop their newest generation of young talent.

New defensive convert Diego Campos has looked promising, showing flashes of the attacking acumen he displayed during his four seasons for Clemson, where he scored 23 goals and 22 assists in 81 appearances. Campos has proved willing to put in the work to develop as a defensive key for the Fire, and his history promises the ability to contribute to the attack from the back.

Offseason signing Przemysław Frankowski has looked sharp and dangerous in his limited run with the Men in Red, and looks to be a lethal part of the offense for years to come. The Polish winger has provided energy and attacking intelligence, looking to fill the playmaking void left by David Accam’s departure after 2017.

At the core of this youth movement is a pair of midfielders, Brandt Bronico and Djordje Mihailovic. The duo look to form the spine of the Fire for years to come, and their developmental ceiling may just define how successful the Fire can be.

Bronico and Mihailovic will always be linked to each other, making their debut in the same game in 2017, a 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake. Since then their careers have skyrocketed, as their determination and work ethic helped them become mainstays in the Fire’s lineup.

Bronico is fond of using the term “grindset,” and these players exemplify this mentality for the Fire. They put in the effort and practice necessary to impose themselves on the game, allowing their creativity and vision to create space and make their teammates better as a result.

While Mihailovic was unfortunately sidelined for the majority of the 2018 season due to his injury sustained during the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, Bronico was able to take the opportunity to shine, using that learning experience and offseason work from 2017 to earn his way into the rotation.

Bronico broke into the team after a couple of substitute appearances in late May of 2018, and proceeded to start eight of the next ten games, recording three assists and a goal during that stretch. And while the club continued to slump over their next few weeks, the midfielder’s work ethic and contribution to the attack could not be questioned.

Bronico recognized how important and valuable his time behind Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger was during his rookie season. In an interview with Pro Soccer USA, Bronico said, “I think last year helped me a lot in the fact that I could work hard and develop, and kind of work on my craft. Obviously, you always want to play games, but I feel like I developed well last year and learned from guys like Basti and Dax. Then I worked hard in the offseason and translated that into game scenarios.”

There is no doubt that the dynamic two-way midfielder will continue to put in the work necessary to succeed at the top level, and as his finishing improves along with gaining more game experience the UNC-Charlotte alum will no doubt be a key contributor for years to come, providing a key link between the attack and defense.

Like his partner in the midfield, Mihailovic was able to use that first substitute appearance as a launch point for a promising career. The homegrown player from Lemont Illinois was able to earn numerous opportunities throughout the 2017 season, making occasional spot starts en-route to being named captain of the Homegrown Game, during which he was able to score in front of his home crowd. By the end of the 2017 season, Djordje was a regular starter and instrumental in their third place finish.

Unfortunately, his debut year ended in injury. He suffered an ACL injury during the team’s playoff game, causing him to lose a large portion of the next season. When Mihailovic was able to return for the team’s final nine games of the 2018 season, he gained critical match fitness while reigniting the spark that his presence brought to the team when he was on the pitch. He earned a call up to Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT squad who gave him rave reviews.

That intelligence is coupled with a strong desire for success and passion for the game, strengthened by living the dream of playing for his favorite childhood team, and the joy of getting to play in front of and represent his hometown. Encouraged by his call up, expect even more out of the Fire’s midfield maestro this season as he further cements his spot as a Chicago regular for many seasons to come.

Knowing Bronico and Mihailovic, along with the rest of the Fire’s young players, are going to develop the grindset to put in work and training to further their development, there is no doubt that these core players will be able to be major contributors for the Men in Red. The Fire will continue to rely on their youth for the 2019 season, giving them critical minutes early in the year that will set the team and the individuals up for great success for years to come.