Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton made his career breakthrough with the Chicago Fire in 1998. The 25-year-old goalkeeper backstopped the first-year club to the American double that year, winning both MLS Cup and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Edgewood, MD native appeared in 273 matches across all competitions with the Fire from 1998-06.
I caught up with the Fire legend following yesterday’s Chivas training session at Toyota Park.
How is it coming back to Chicago? Do any emotions return when you’re here?
I love coming back. This was where I made a name for myself and I have a lot of good memories with the people here. It’s always good to come back to Chicago. I owe a lot to this city and this team for seeing my worth and giving me the shot to prove myself so I hold a special place in my heart for both.
Speaking of memories, what are some of your best from your eight years as a Fire player?
Obviously winning MLS Cup in our first year was special and definitely the four Open Cup championships. Our teams were always strong especially in that first year when we won the championship. I have a lot of good memories of friends I made here – I talk regularly with C.J. and it’s good to see guys like Logan and Justin again as well.
Do you ever look back and ask yourself if you’d been born a few years earlier or later, you might have played more with the U.S. national team?
No not really. That’s all timing and we produced a ton of good keepers during my generation, beyond guys like Friedel, Keller, Meola and Hahnemann. I’m friends with a lot of those guys, I used to go to Blackburn in the offseason and train with Brad while he was there.
The U.S. produced keepers that probably could have played for other countries but never got a sniff for our national team. That’s just the way it goes. I was thankful to get the chance I had and it was always an honor to represent the U.S. At the end of the day I play soccer for a living and I’m thankful for that.
After leaving the Fire you had a couple years that didn’t go so well, moving to Colorado and then New York. Can you talk about that experience?
It was rough. There were a lot of people that didn’t believe I could play at this level anymore – it was just a very trying time for me personally.
Chivas USA took a chance and you repaid them last year, going 12-9-6, earning 12 shutouts and a 0.87 goals against average, good enough to take home both Goalkeeper of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year. Can you talk about what last season meant for you?
It was great to come back and prove my ability again. Last season was definitely a response to those that doubted me and said I was past it. I’m also very grateful to Chivas USA for giving me a chance to prove myself again. Along with Chicago they’re also a club that I owe a lot to.