Well folks, we made it to the Gold Cup break. By the looks of Dax McCarty’s comments this Saturday night, the team probably could use a few days to get away and reflect on the first third of the MLS season before heading into the grueling summer months. Some will probably take some vacation, others will be off representing their countries in various regional tournaments and friendlies.
One of those in the latter group, Djordje Mihailovic, not only made the preliminary Gold Cup roster but is a member of the 28-man roster that U.S. National Team coach Gregg Berhalter called in to face Jamaica in a pre-tournament friendly tomorrow night. While this doesn’t mean Mihailovic has locked in a roster spot for the Gold Cup this summer (final rosters are due midnight tomorrow and will be announced Thursday), it is a good indication that he is in fact in the mix to represent the United States this summer in the first real competition since the nightmare in Couva.
Fire fans should be particularly attentive to how Mihailovic represents himself this summer, not only because of his affiliation with the club and to hope to see a local product succeed at the highest level, but for the future implications it might have on the Fire’s willingness to invest in youth talent in the moving forward. It’s no secret that Mihailovic has his eyes on a move overseas eventually, and this summer could be a huge showcase for not only him, but for the club.
We are seeing a paradigm shift in this new age of MLS, where developing young, local talent to sell to Europe is no longer seen as a pipe dream; the blueprint is out there. The benefits for MLS clubs (low player acquisition cost, local talent representing their community, eventual ongoing transfer & development fees) can be enormous, as well as connect their supporters to the team more so than any marketing budget could.
The Fire are behind many MLS club when it comes to Homegrown success, having really only gotten a couple good roles players and a few magical Harry Shipp seasons, which eventually turned into TAM and GAM, out of their Academy investment. In fact, we’ve seen both Andrew Gutman and Cam Lindley spurn the Chicago Fire to move elsewhere, thinking their development path would not run through the Fire first team they had once dreamed playing for.
Will a great Gold Cup by Djordje mean that the next Homegrown signing for the Chicago Fire will make his national team debut at 20 and will pull in a large transfer fee across the pond? No, not necessarily. Will the Fire be in a better position recruiting talent at the Academy level and might be enticed to invest more in young talent? Absolutely.
Djordje has the opportunity not only to represent his national team, make a splash and possibly move to a bigger club, but also can be a trailblazer for the club and the Chicago Fire Academy.