Getting To Know Gibbs

The sound bells were ringing leading up to Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft on Wednesday, following last week’s mostly uneventful first stage.

As the process is new, many weren’t sure what to expect a week ago and still weren’t positive what would have today, but 12 players made their way to new teams Wednesday, including the Chicago Fire’s newest addition, defender Cory Gibbs.

The U.S. international defender has had an unusual road to this point in his career, filled with notable highs and devastating lows.

A graduate of Brown University, Gibbs spurned interest from MLS in 2001, eventually signing with newly promoted Bundesliga side FC St. Pauli. As a 21 year old, the American defender featured prominently on the back line for the Hamburg-based club during his first season, at the time becoming the second youngest American to score in the Bundesliga (behind Jovan Kirovski and now Michael Bradley).

With U.S. coach Bruce Arena still undecided on the defenders he would take to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Gibbs was called up for training camp ahead of a friendly with Germany in March of that year. Unfortunately, his international debut would have to wait as he was injured just before the camp convened.

Though securing a role with St. Pauli, the club was relegated to the second Bundesliga the next season and again the year after that, leaving Gibbs on a third division club.

Despite the low playing level, Gibbs received his first cap for the U.S. during summer 2003, featuring in the Confederations Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup. He was famously sent off in the continental championship’s semi-final against Brazil after intentionally handling the ball on the line to save what would have been a “Golden Goal” from Kaka.

Having impressed with the U.S. team over the summer, but unable to find a suitable club situation, Gibbs came to terms with the Dallas Burn, playing 21 matches during the 2004 season.

Coming off a strong performance during 2004, Gibbs returned to Europe for a training stint with Dutch giants Feyenoord and caught many, including some in Dallas, by surprise when he signed with the Rotterdam side in the January transfer window.

The Ft. Lauderdale, FL native played 15 league matches, scoring one goal and also made appearances in the UEFA Cup during his first season with the Dutch club.

Returning to international play, Gibbs played a key role on the U.S. backline during early 2005 CONCACAF Final Round World Cup qualifying. The veteran defender seemed a lock for the 2006 U.S. World Cup roster before suffering a knee injury during a 2-1 loss to England in a friendly held at Chicago’s Soldier Field in May of that year.

Looking to not miss the boat on a second-straight World Cup, Gibbs worked hard to get back to form and was deemed fit by Feyenoord in January 2006. Having been out of the lineup for so long and with the club experiencing a management change while he was laid up, Gibbs requested a loan in order to prove his fitness to Bruce Arena ahead of his roster announcement in late April.

Ironically he moved to ADO Den Haag, joining fellow Dutch-based American player John O’Brien, who was also looking to prove his form to Arena after a long, injury lay-off. Both played in season ending matches, with Gibbs appearing to have regained his pre-injury form and in turn, was named along with O’Brien to the U.S. squad set to go to Germany for that summer’s World Cup.

Things were looking up for the defender – he even signed with English Premier League club Charlton Athletic before returning Stateside but perhaps the most devastating injury of his career was suffered during the first of three U.S. warm up matches for the World Cup against Morocco in Nashville.

Having played the full 90 minutes in the 1-0 loss, Gibbs’ knee swelled up post game and after examination was diagnosed with a torn ACL, ending his hopes once again to go to the FIFA World Cup.

I remember well the SportsCenter feature detailing the U.S. during training camp and the very end, Bruce Arena walking to the sidelined Gibbs to break the news that his dream was over. At that time, it was maybe the most compelling stuff ESPN had done from a human interest perspective related to the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Gibbs watched on as the U.S. crashed out of the FIFA World Cup and joined Charlton Athletic where he spent two seasons (2006-08) but never played due to various injuries.

Looking to get back on the field, the defender returned Stateside once again, playing two season with the Colorado Rapids (2008-09) before being traded to the New England Revolution in 2010.

Upon his return to MLS, Gibbs has been in good form, playing a majority of his team’s matches over the past two seasons and should provide good veteran stability to a back line that’s in the process of being rebuilt following the retirement of C.J. Brown.

Though many a Fire fan clamored for Jimmy Conrad, Gibbs has the edge on the former Kansas City Wizards defender both on age (Gibbs is 30, Conrad is 34) and in salary (Gibbs was making approximately $110K less than Conrad in 2010).

Though Frank Klopas and his technical staff still have a long way to go with filling out the 2011 Fire roster this offseason, they’re first offseason acquisition looks to be a very important one.

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.