The Chicago Fire’s announcement of Nery Castillo as the club’s new Designated Player at Toyota Park Saturday night was a small pick-me-up for fans that had just witnessed the side suffer its fourth consecutive defeat in the month of July. The 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution eliminated the Fire from SuperLiga 2010, just one year after finishing as runners-up in the tournament.
The defeat was symbolic of the Fire’s season so far – outplaying a team for the course of the match only to be undone by a mental mistake in the back.
Rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe found himself under pressure and coughed up the ball in the back, allowing Revolution striker Kheli Dube to touch a pass to Marko Perovic. The Serbian let loose with a 25-yard shot that caught another Fire rookie, goalkeeper Sean Johnson off guard in the 77th minute.
It’s a mistake that could have been felt less had the Fire finished some of their early chances, as Mike Banner hit the post and Deris Umanzor put a close-range effort over the bar during the first half.
Since returning from the World Cup break on June 27, the Fire have scored three goals across five matches in all competitions. That number looks worse when you mention one of the strikes was an own goal scored by Frankie Hejduk in the club’s 2-1 loss at Columbus on July 3. In the month of July only one Fire player has tallied a goal, with rookie defender Steven Kinney scoring his first professional goal in the 5-1 loss to Monarcas Morelia Wednesday night at Toyota Park.
These are all reasons the club pulled the trigger in bringing the Mexican international to Toyota Park.
“You look for somebody fresh to come in and spark the group,” said Fire original defender C.J. Brown. “It’s going to be exciting for Chicago with a high-profile Mexican player coming in. Hopefully that brings a little more spirit from the team and brightens the Fire a bit.”
Castillo’s reputation as a player with an edge about him is well known, but the Fire veteran thinks this should be a welcome quality in a new player.
“I think his attitude will be helpful. You always want someone with a little attitude and hopefully he really sparks it on the field. That’s what this club has always been about. We fight when we need to fight and we play when we need to play. You look at [Cuauhtemoc] Blanco, you look at [Peter] Nowak – they both had the same type of edge that Nery has. I think his addition will be good for us in more ways than one.”
With six goals, midfielder Marco Pappa leads the Fire in scoring this season. The Guatemalan international is positive about the club’s new addition, while making clear that one player can’t turn everything around.
“I know he’s a very explosive and fast player,” said Pappa. “I think he will help in our effort to score and create goals where we’ve fallen off a lot recently. I would think he’s familiar with the current situation the team is in and it’s not only his responsibility to rescue us -- we’ll all look to find ways to win our matches. We don’t expect one player to come and fix all of our problems; it’s a goal the whole team needs to work towards. Regardless, we will welcome him with open arms so that he can feel comfortable and at home. “
While many have celebrated Castillo’s addition, recognizing the club’s need for an offensive injection, some lauded it as a high risk, noting that the striker has played sparingly since leaving Greek giants Olympiakos in 2007.
My question: What Designated Player signing isn’t a risk?
Since MLS implemented the Designated Player rule in 2007, players that have been tagged as DP’s have generally been much older than Castillo, who at 26 is the second youngest Designated Player in League history.
As DP’s have gone, it’s been about a 50/50 success rate the last three years.
David Beckham wasn’t immediately effective for the Los Angeles Galaxy and everyone remembers the failure of Denilson with FC Dallas. Houston’s Luis Landin didn’t like Robertson Stadium on Fire and it’s fair to say Claudio Reyna was poor at the end of his storied career with the New York Red Bulls.
Though initially leaving a bit to be desired, Beckham came good for the Galaxy last season, joining the Red Bulls’ Juan Pablo Angel, Seattle’s Freddy Ljungberg and the Fire’s previous DP Cuauhtemoc Blanco as players that have come to play and be respected for their time in Major League Soccer.
Like many a MLS Designated Player, Castillo joins the Fire after hitting a career snag. The Mexican international has experienced strife both on and off the field which may explain his more recent lack of playing time the past few seasons.
Following an impressive showing with Mexico during the 2007 Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments, Castillo became the Ukrainian league’s most expensive transfer with his €20 million move from Olympiakos to Shakhtar Donetsk in July 2007.
The following January the striker went out on loan to Manchester City. The move began well but the striker suffered a setback when he sustained a shoulder injury that kept him out for a number of months. Upon his return, the club had started to move in a new direction, resulting in his return to Donetsk before where he was eventually loaned out again to Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
During much of this time, Castillo had to deal with the passing of both his mother and father who both lost battles with cancer within 11 months of each other. His mother Myriam in January and father Nery in December 2009.
“It has been difficult,” said Castillo in a Fire Q&A session earlier this week. “I am dealing with their loss. I have my wife, my daughter. I have my brother. Together, we support each other. My parents had to leave for a reason. Now I have to continue on.”
While with Club America in the 1980’s, current Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos played a number of times against the elder Castillo during his time with San Luis de Potosi in the Mexican Primera. “Nery’s father was was a very good player,” said the Fire boss Tuesday morning. “He was a fast, creative midfield player and very difficult to mark because he had a strong personality and was always looking to attack. He was a very difficult player to defend against because of his personality and he passed that on to his son. Though we weren’t on the same team, Nery and I were friends. I knew him well and I knew his son too. I’m looking forward to being his manager.”
De los Cobos expects to use Castillo as a second striker next to either former U.S. international Brian McBride or this season’s Dutch import Collins John in bolstering the recently stalled Fire attack.
“My intention is to use Nery as a forward – his qualities and characteristics will compliment players like Brian and Collins. I think with Nery on the field we have another valuable option in the attack. At the end of the day this signing is positive because he’s a very competitive player and one that we expect to add a lot of offense to our team.”
The team will get to meet its newest player and de los Cobos will reacquaint himself with Castillo when he arrives in Chicago later this week.
Follow Fire Team Writer Jeff Crandall on Twitter @JefeCrandall