First thought that comes into your mind might be, “What’s in a name?”, though if you’ve been paying attention to the club last few months you may have see it pop up once or twice.
“Pari” as most know him, was the club’s 2011 Open Tryout winner. The Greek-born, Mt. Prospect, IL product advanced out of a group of 210 players from 19 different countries in January’s open trial, earning an invite to the first two weeks of the club’s training camp.
As Open Tryouts go, I’ve seen a few from my end of working for a team. Generally the player that advances has a nice run-around for a week or two and they’re sent on their way. This could have been the original intention with Pari but then he popped up on the team’s travel roster to Ave Maria, FL in mid-February.
After nearly two weeks in the secluded town outside Naples, Pantazopoulos returned to Chicago with the first team and then disembarked again for phase three of preseason this time to Charleston, SC.
After two weeks and four matches in South Carolina, Pantazopoulos was told early the morning of departure back to Chicago that he would be making the Fire roster by the team’s Director of Player Personnel Mike Jeffries.
...I guess that’s the metaphor of this whole introduction… Pari had already gone from dreaming of playing for the Fire one day, to earning contracts with Cypriot and Greek clubs the last few years, to going through the open tryout process upon returning to Chicago, earning an invite to preseason training, making it through three phases over seven weeks and being told he had made the team.
In the end, one silly word that’s become a fixture in Fire and MLS circles of late, paperwork, was the culprit in the hold up.
Word on his impending signing got out early through and a few stories were written by major news outlets making some wonder why Pantazopoulos wasn't featured on the official roster. As time went on, an official announcement from the club didn’t come…
“I kind of thought about it and I kind of didn’t,” said Pantazopoulos Tuesday. “I just thought train and the papers will come but in the back of my mind I always had that question about when they would come or if they ever would. It’s a little bit frustrating and it keeps you nervous. The funny thing was that some of my papers were with the U.S. Soccer Federation the whole time.
This may raise a few eyebrows, but between the player and the club itself, neither party was aware that the Federation had some of the papers needed to complete his signing after he played for Buffalo Grove-based Schwaben AC in a cup game last summer.
“The papers came from Greece a while ago and went to U.S. Soccer – it was kind of shocking but I’m happy to officially be a Fire player now. I’m just thankful to the club for giving me a chance. The last few months have been fun but now this is where the hard work begins, you have to show up and show yourself that you’re part of this and hopefully step on the field one day and play.”
Hard work was a theme with Pantazopoulos throughout preseason. As I checked in with him during the trialing process, it was almost always one of the first things he mentioned. It may sound cliché for any athlete to say, but Pari has put hard work into practice and head coach Carlos de los Cobos thinks this mentality is a great fit with the 2011 squad. One that’s built on drive and character just as much as anything else.
“He’s a very good kid and a good player,” said de los Cobos. “He’s always concentrating on the match, always focused and wanting to learn. I feel very good with Pari because he shows his comfort on the field, he has a strong personality and he’s always working hard to improve as a player.”
Though he entered camp as an attacking-minded midfielder, he’s transitioned into a bit of a utility player. Similar to the role Serbian midfielder Bratislav Ristic has played for the club in his short tenure, Pantazopoulos has featured more in defense, on the left and in the middle, than he has in the center of the park.
“I came in attacking minded. That’s what I played through high school and club but it’s good to try and play other positions. Any coach needs a player that can play as a utility -- that can only help your resume. Anytime you can help out the club in that way is good. Overall in the midfield, defense – wherever the coach needs me I’m going to give my best.”
So far, the manager has been impressed with Pantazopoulos’ ability in the back, particularly on the left.
“I think sometimes we need players that can occupy different spots on the field,” said de los Cobos. “At left back we really have only Gonzalo [Segares] and for that reason I’m adapting Pari to play in this position. So far the transition has been very good. Most important from Pari, I know he’s always ready to go and I’m sure that he will have some opportunities to play this season.”
While Pantazopoulos awaits his first chance to step on the Toyota Park pitch as a first team player, he looks to the older players on the Fire roster and he’s singled out one player in particular that has helped him adjust to the league.
“Patrick Nyarko’s been a big help for me,” he said. “I’ve been asking him questions – how to defend, what to look for as a defender, positioning, because Pat is one of the fastest guys in the league. Once and a while I’ll ask him how do you defend if there’s a fast opponent coming up and he’s been helping throughout. Really all the players have been helping me just letting me know how to improve. The main thing I want to do is improve my game and what I want to gain from the older, experienced players is to learn how to improve… and as always, keep working hard.”
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.