When Toyota Park comes to mind, the 20-year-old's thoughts run back to his first professional game in September of 2012, when he came to Bridgeview as a member of Santos Laguna for a friendly. He even beat former Fire goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi to the near post to score in the 24th minute in the 2-2 draw, his maiden first-team appearance with the Liga MX powerhouse.
“I love Chicago,” Joya told MLSsoccer.com. “My first game with the first division was against Chicago at Toyota Park, and I ended up scoring in the first half, so I have a lot of good memories.”
Joya spent the next two seasons scrapping for consistent first-team minutes in Liga MX, which never came. After making just four Liga MX and two Copa MX appearances, the San Jose, Calif., native thought he'd make a move within Mexico. But months after he captained the US in the U-20 World Cup last year, a move to Puebla fell through, so he decided to make the move back to his home country.
“This is just something new,” Joya said before his first training session on Friday morning after arriving at Fire camp in Bradenton, Fla. “It popped out of nowhere and got me really excited obviously when I found out about the lottery … I'm still excited. I still haven't been able to calm my nerves.”
The Fire now have a stash of young midfielders waiting in the wings.
Fire coach Frank Yallop said he hasn't seen much of Joya, but after hearing from third parties he pulled the trigger on entering the lottery, which was heavily weighted in the Fire's favor.
“I spoke to at least six to eight people about Benji, and I've seen enough, not a lot, but everybody had good things to say about him,” Yallop said on a conference call on Thursday. “He looks like he plays a No. 8, which is a two-way midfielder. … He has very good instincts. Any player who goes with a team like Santos Laguna, to play with that team, you've got to have something.”
While No. 8 may be his natural position, Joya said he feels confident playing almost anywhere in the midfield. His time at Santos helped mold him into a top prospect, and he hopes prove his case to make his second start at Toyota Park sooner rather than later.
“As a player, I learned how to be patient [with Santos],” Joya said. “I learned how to know when to take action and when to go to play, when to be calm, when to be offensive or defensive. I feel very comfortable in the center-mid role because I love to have the ball at my feet. I love being a playmaker or a playmaker with a very defensive role making runs up and down the field. I like playing up and down the field. On the wing, I feel comfortable, I like juking a lot. I love having the ball.”