The name Pareskevas Pantazopoulos has a nice ring to it.
The winner of the club’s annual open tryout, come January 28, Pari will join the rest of the Chicago Fire first team and draftees at the Bridgeview Sports Dome as he tries to earn a spot on the 2011 roster.
“I was shocked man,” when asked about his reaction to the news. “I thought, ‘oh my god, this is unreal’. I didn’t know that one day I’d get a chance to play with the Fire. I’m just happy to be the winner out of everyone. Every player’s dream is to be a professional with the team they loved and rooted for when they were young. I’m really excited for the opportunity to join the team for preseason.”
Born in Athens, Greece in 1988, Pantazopoulos played in the Academy for local club Vrilissia before moving with his family to the United States 10 years later. Settling in the Chicago suburbs, Pari started following the Fire in the club’s first season in 1998. He counts his favorite Fire memory as the club’s double-winning campaign that year.
Growing up in Mt. Prospect, Patazoupoulos began playing for a local recreational team until 2002 before joining the Chicago Magic, whom he played with during his time as a student at Mt. Prospect High School.
At age 19, seeking a career in soccer, the highly touted attacking midfielder went back to Europe and signed for Cypriot second division club Asyl Lisis in 2007. He followed up a one-year stay in Cyprus with two years in Greece with Zakynthos FC.
Pantazopoulos credits his time playing professionally overseas as helping him through the tryout process which featured 210 players over two days.
“The things I learned overseas, I brought here. It’s made me a better, more mature player. Leaving at a young age, it makes you grow up faster, think smarter, everything. During the tryout there were a lot of good, quality players there on the second day, I just tried to keep things simple, playing smart and quick – those are the things the coaches are looking for. They don’t want to see you holding the ball or doing tricks. Take less than three touches and play hard and aggressively, that’s what I did and it went well.”
As Pantazopoulos gets ready to suit up for the first week of preseason beginning on January 28, it’s hard not to compare his story to that of Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas.
Also born in Greece, Klopas emigrated with his family to Chicago when he was eight years old. The future U.S. international striker skipped college to join the Chicago Sting before eventually signing with AEK Athens in 1988. After an extended stay abroad, Klopas returned to the U.S. and signed with the Kansas City Wizards in 1996, before joining his hometown club, the Chicago Fire two years later for their inaugural season.
“I remember seeing Frank when he played for the Fire the first year and thinking, ‘Hey that guy’s Greek like me.’ I’d heard his story and yeah, ours are kind of similar in a way. He was a very accomplished player and it just goes to show, anywhere you go, anything you do, you get experience, you learn something.”
While surprised by the call to tell him he’d won, Pantazopoulos received another unexpected call later in the day.
“The club’s owner Andrew Hauptman called to congratulate me as well. I was surprised to hear from him and he just encouraged me, told me to keep working hard and said he was looking forward to meeting me during training camp. It was a nice thing to do.”
With just over a week before preseason training begins, Pantazopoulos will continue the prep he did for the Open Tryouts, lifting, training, working on his touch, he knows things will only become more difficult once the team arrives.
“I’ve tried to be spot-on with every single play of the ball. That’s the thing with being a professional, everyday you have to be spot-on. At the MLS level, you can’t make mistakes – it’ll cost you points or a game. I’m looking forward to training camp and will keep working hard.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.