BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire took another step towards developing its future on Thursday with the announcement that 17-year-old Academy product Collin Fernandez had signed a with the first team as a Homegrown player.
The Downers Grove product will become the fifth Homegrown player in club history once his contract goes into effect in 2015.
“It’s always been my dream to be a professional soccer player and this is just the beginning,” said Fernandez. “I’ve played with the Fire since I was 13, so it’s a dream come true for me to sign with my hometown club.”
Fernandez, who has appeared for the club’s U-14, U-16 and U-18 Academy teams was named the USSFDA Center Conference U-16 Player of the Year after tallying 16 goals in 25 matches from his attacking midfield position during the 2013/14 campaign.
Fernandez has trained off and on with the first team for the last two years and said Thursday that his first time playing a Reserve match last season made him feel like going pro “was in my hands.”
The club’s third Homegrown player signing of 2014, Fernandez is taking a different route than that of Harry Shipp and Chris Ritter, both of whom went through college at Notre Dame and Northwestern respectively before signing with the Fire earlier this year.
While Fernandez considered a similar path, the desire to immediately get into a professional environment trumped that consideration.
“There was a thought to it but that three month season looks like it kills you,” Fernandez said. “Professional soccer was always my dream and that’s what I was looking forward to.”
Fernandez says he models his defensive game after Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and attacking style after Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil.
Locally though, Fernandez says 12-year club veteran Logan Pause has been instrumental in helping him get to this point.
“I’ve always looked up to Logan since day one. When I was 15 years old he was there to push me through training sessions. He gets on me every training session. When I play well he compliments me – he’s there to keep pushing me.”
Fernandez just returned from the Václav Ježek Tournament in the Czech Republic where he tallied a goal and two assists for the U.S. U-18s, helping the side to the tournament title.
With Fernandez ineligible for first team play until 2015, it’ll be call-ups for the U.S. U-18s, remaining Reserve League matches and continued play for the Fire U-18s in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to keep in shape heading into 2015.
Fernandez, who was born just eight months before the club’s founding in October 1997, says those games will be good to keep him in shape for when he is eligible.
Showing little fear, when asked when he hoped to be ready for his first team debut, the 17-year-old said, “As soon as possible. Hopefully next season I can step on the field.”