The last time he played or practiced under one of the new Chicago Fire coaches, Chris Ritter wasn't the bruising 6-foot-2, 190 pound defensive midfielder he is today.
When C.J. Brown coached Ritter's youth team Travian Soccer Club, the new Fire assistant was a young center back playing for Chicago, and the club's latest Homegrown Player signing was only eight or nine years old.
“It's kind of a full-circle story,” Ritter said on a conference call Monday shortly after his signing. “I don't think he remembers me necessarily, but I certainly remember him. It was cool to have this well-established Chicago Fire player as your coach when you're a nine-year-old, so he's certainly someone I've looked up to for a long time.”
“We’re thrilled for him and his family,” said Travian/FC United assistant director Baer Fisher. “We’re not at all surprised but thrilled. Chris has worked incredibly hard and signing for a club like the Fire is a testament to his talent and dedication.
PODCAST: New Fire Homegrown gives his first interview
The Fire organization have had their eyes on Ritter for a few years.
The Fire Academy and PDL alum said Chicago were interested in signing him last offseason after his junior year at Northwestern, but Ritter said he made his motives to return to school clear. He did train with Frank Klopas's team last season, where he played alongside Jeff Larentowicz and Logan Pause, who will likely enter the season ahead of him in the pecking order in defensive midfield.
“One thing I really noticed is how professional those guys are, day-in and day-out,” Ritter said. “I think I fit in pretty well. The speed of play is obviously faster, but I wasn't out-matched by any means.”
With his size and ability in the air, Ritter has the look of a center back. While he didn't play the position in college, he didn't rule out possibly filling in at the position in the future.
“I think defensive midfielders can kind of slot into the center back role when players are out injured or whatever it may be,” Ritter said. “I think it's kind of a natural position-change, but playing at a high level, I don't really have any experience at center back.”
RELEASE: Chicago Fire sign Chris Ritter as a Homegrown Player
Lightly-recruited out of high school, Ritter attended a school without a strong tradition of churning out MLS players. Four years later, he's the Fire's fourth Homegrown Player signing and the second of the offseason after Hermann Trophy finalist Harrison Shipp put pen to paper last week.
“I didn't think going into college that I was going to be a professional soccer player,” Ritter said. “That wasn't my only goal. The way things worked out, and this opportunity presented itself. Going down the road, I think I'm a steady player, a consistent player.”