Bienvenido, Nery Castillo

Mexican forward arrives from Shakhtar Donetsk

The Chicago Fire announced on Saturday night that 26-year-old Mexican National Team forward Nery Castillo has been signed as the club’s newest Designated Player.

The Fire captured the player’s signature ahead of other Mexican and European clubs that were also bidding for his services. He arrives on loan from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk with Chicago holding the option to make the transfer permanent.

Castillo, who has made 21 appearances for Mexico, was not in attendance for Saturday’s announcement, which was made in front of a large crowd at Toyota Park minutes after the conclusion of the Fire’s Group B SuperLiga match against the New England Revolution.

His official presentation will take place next week in Chicago and his first match is expected to come against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Sunday, Aug. 1.

“I’m very happy to be joining the Fire, which is a club that I feel embodies the same values that I have as a player,” Castillo said in a club statement. “When I put on a Fire jersey for the first time, my commitment to the fans and to my club will be to score goals, contribute on the pitch and win.”

An enormously talented and incredibly mercurial player, Castillo is widely remembered for a magical 2007 Copa América during which Mexico advanced to the semifinals on the heels of his four goals, including one in a victory over Brazil. Those performances at the age of 23 earned Castillo a record $27.5 million transfer and a five-year contract with Shakhtar Donetsk, a rising European power and 2008-09 UEFA Cup champions.

 A precocious talent who made his professional debut in Uruguay at the age of 15, Castillo became a fan favorite during seven seasons and 105 appearances with storied Greek club Olympiakos. He captured the spotlight with three goals over five matches in the 2006-07 UEFA Champions League, including two strikes against his current club, Shakhtar.

Castillo will arrive into Chicago a hungry player as he looks to return to regain the form that earned him international acclaim. The UEFA Cup triumph has been the highlight of his stay with Shakhtar, as his move to Ukraine has proven bumpy. A famous incident in which Castillo insisted on taking a penalty-kick shot instead of Shakhtar’s designated shooter, made for an uphill start at the Ukrainian club.

While with Shakhtar Donetsk, Castillo also went on brief loan spells with English Premier League club Manchester City and Ukrainian side FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

With the Fire, Castillo will be seeking to replicate the success of fellow Mexican National Team player and close personal friend Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who left his mark in his two seasons as Chicago’s first Designated Player.   

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.  He can be reached at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com