The day before the club’s 2011 Opening Day match last month a familiar face joined the Fire broadcast team. Evan Whitfield spent five seasons playing for the Chicago Fire, tasting some of the club’s greatest successes as well as some of the most difficult defeats. One of only 12 players to appear in 100 or more games for the Fire, Whitfield helped the club to two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships in 2000 and 2003 and was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team in Sydney.
JC: You weren’t a star on the teams you were on but you were a solid contributor. Can you talk a little bit about the character guys that make up a large portion of the rosters in this league?
EW: That’s a valid point. I’d definitely put myself in that category. I played over 100 games for the Fire (103 to be exact) and I started a majority of the time. It’s easy to look on the field and see Lubos or Peter carrying the ball 50 yards. A lot of the teams that have the big Designated Players now and back then the big names that are older, the main reason they’re successful is because coaches pick younger, mostly American guys to work around them and cover a lot of that space.
If we were playing a 3-5-2, [DaMarcus] Beasley and myself were killing ourselves on the outside so Nowak only had to run around in the middle. Every MLS roster needs guys that aren’t superstars but that work hard and do well filling holes on the field to be successful.
JC: You were on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team that went to the semifinals in Sydney and finished fourth. Could you talk about that experience?
EW: It was a huge goal of mine to play with the Olympic team and I’d been with the youth national teams through college and with the U23’s in the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg where we won the Bronze Medal. I’d actually played with the full national team pool two or three times but never got a cap.
My experiences in Sydney, even though I only played in the quarterfinal against Japan, were sort of the culmination of my personal soccer goals. Quite frankly now that I’m no longer playing, the thing that people are most impressed about when they get to know me in the non-soccer world is the fact that I went to the Olympics. Being an Olympian is definitely a special thing that has afforded me a lot of opportunities post-playing. I volunteered and was a big part of the push for the 2016 Olympics here and did a lot of stuff during that time. Weird opportunities present themselves when you have that on your resume.
Playing for the Fire, playing in a youth national championship and losing, playing in two MLS Cup championships and losing, playing in a NCAA national championship and losing, those are horrible experiences but great achievements. Playing pro in Europe for a second (he signed with KAA Ghent out of Duke) and playing in MLS for all those years, but what people really seem to latch on to is the Olympics. That’s fine, it was a great experience…spending a month in Sydney was really cool.
JC: The Japan game you played in was 2-2 and went to penalties correct?
EW: Yeah, it went to penalty kicks. I subbed into the match for John O’Brien at center midfield which is kind of typical for my career. I was a defender but I probably played a majority of my games for the Fire in the midfield and fill in where I was needed.
JC: After five seasons with the Fire you ended up going to Real Salt Lake for their expansion season in 2005. Was there sadness when you left Chicago?
EW: Yeah I had played for them from 1999-04 and seen a number of coaches and gone through a number of players and fell in love with the city. Leaving Chicago was bittersweet but I was excited about going to Salt Lake and being part of an expansion team at the ground level.
You have to remember with the Fire I came in and I was drafted by them in the first round despite telling the Fire I wasn’t going to play for them. They drafted me knowing I was going to Europe and I was unsuccessful but I did my thing there playing for a Ghent in Belgium and then came back to the Fire the year after they won the MLS Cup, so they didn’t really need Evan Whitfield necessarily. It was difficult for me to break into the lineup and establish myself. Having finally done that over the years, it was sad to leave but I was excited to start out in a new city.
Ultimately it didn’t work out and that’s just the way things happen. When I had the chance to come back to Chicago I took it. I came to law school here just because I love the city so much from playing.
JC: You’re a Duke undergrad… You went to DePaul
Law School correct?
EW: Yeah I went to DePaul in 2006 and then I graduated in May 2009.
JC: …and what type of law are you practicing?
EW: I practice family law at the largest family law practice in the country: Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck.
JC: You’re a Duke guy and a guy that played in a few different positions for the Fire, striking a shocking similarity to the club’s current Duke grad, Michael Videira. Have you talked to your fellow Blue Devil since getting the new gig?
EW: We haven’t had the chance to meet yet but I’ve already called him out in the lineup as a Duke guy. He had a really good game against Kansas City in setting up the Puerari goal. I’m excited to get to know him. Duke has a long history of good MLS players: Jason Kreis, Garth Lagerway, Jay Heaps, Ali Curtis, Brian Kelly for the real fans from the 90’s….
JC: Enough of Duke… Last question… Your first Fire road trip as a broadcaster on Saturday. What are your thoughts on Seattle.
EW: I’m excited to experience the new atmosphere in MLS. I think that Seattle kind of does that in their massive stadium. It’ll fun to experience that for the first time. Other than that, I’ll meet up with Dan [Kelly] and the rest of the production crew, do a pre-game meeting, get each others thoughts and hope to have a good game. I’m also excited to see Nate Jaqua, we were friends and teammates with the Fire so it’ll be good to catch up with him.
JC: Thanks Evan, good luck around all that rave green!
Watch for Evan's future blogs here at Chicago-Fire.com!
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.