Entering his fifth season with the Chicago Fire MLS club, defender Dasan Robinson was no stranger to the Windy City club when he was selected by the team in the 2006 MLS Supplemental Draft, having spent the previous two summers playing with the Chicago Fire Premier Development League side under the guidance of current assistant coach Mike Matkovich.
The success of the Fire PDL team within the United Soccer Leagues developmental setup is well documented, having qualified for the PDL playoffs every year since the team's inception in 2001, the Fire have seen more players drafted by MLS clubs than any other side in the 68-team league. For Robinson, a product of Elyria, OH, the reason for the club's Player Development arm's success is simple, especially as it comes to the PDL. "Chicago Fire PDL serves as great preparation for the professional game," said Robinson. "The league brings together the top collegiate talent every year and it isn't hard to figure out why so many of those players want to spend summers here above other places. Guys are surrounded with professionalism the entire time, they're also playing with some of the best players from all parts of the country. You come away with a stronger mentality that exudes confidence after your time here is over."
Robinson's two years with the 'Fire Reserves" and then "Fire Premier" as they were formally known, were two of the best in team history. Under Matkovich's tutelage, the side went 17-0-1 in 2004 on their way to the PDL regular season championship, while reaching the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Robinson played a huge part that season, appearing in 16 of 18 regular season matches, while leading all Fire field players in minutes with 1136. The next summer, Robinson returned to the Fire, ahead of his senior season at the University of Dayton.
As he returned, so did the team to the U.S. Open Cup -- the first time the PDL side reached the tournament in back-to-back years since its inception. Additionally, the team nearly repeated as regular season champions, finishing with a 14-1-1 record -- two points behind table-toppers Orange County Blue Star in the overall standings.
A constant rock over his two years on the back line, Robinson appeared in 35 of a possible 41 matches over all competitions during his stint in the PDL, featuring with former Fire striker Chris Rolfe as well as U.S. internationals Brad Guzan and Drew Moor, Bundesliga starlet Vedad Ibisevic and MLS veterans Thabiso Khumalo, Danny O'Rourke and Jed Zayner. "The PDL side is always strong for obvious reasons but the teams over those two years had so many good players, there was little secret to our success. If you've played with those guys, while working in the pro environment, there isn't much difference when you make the step to the MLS level. Mike Matkovich was a guy that could have been coaching in MLS sooner and we had him overseeing our team. The whole setup is invaluable to a player looking to pro."
While the PDL side has been the fixture in the Fire's player development outreach, the club's Academy teams have integrated themselves well, and with recent backing from owner Andrew Hauptman as well as first-year head coach Carlos de los Cobos, the club recently took their U18 side along with the first team to Guadalajara, Mexico for preseason training.
Last Saturday, they met up with the U16's in Jackson, MS. "At the time, I thought my opportunity with the PDL team was as good as it would get," said Robinson. "I would have loved the experience to join the first team at an even younger age. I think bringing the Academy teams with us in preseason is a strong nod towards the club's attitude as it relates to player development and all the first team guys are looking to help the youth players as much as they can while they're with us." Walking into his fifth season with the Fire first team under his fourth head coach, the defender will look to work his way back into the fold after playing sparingly over the last two seasons.
Robinson welcomes the addition of de los Cobos and Soccer Fitness Specialist Alvaro Briones for the different philosophies and attitude they've brought to the club in preseason. "Coming in, guys were curious to see the changes that would occur under a new manager. Carlos' hiring has brought along positive change to the team. Adjusting to any new coach takes time but I feel I'm working well within our new system. Profe [Briones] has been much more involved in training then previous fitness coaches and his approach to getting us in shape has been welcomed by the guys because of emphasis on gaining fitness while working with the ball. Overall preseason's been good and I think it will have us well prepared to kickoff on March 27 vs. Red Bull."