BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- There was a short period of time Wednesday that Eric Gehrig was set to pack his bags for a new home in Orlando.
Selected from Columbus in the final round of Wednesday’s MLS Expansion Draft, rather than head to Florida, the Crown Point, Ind. native’s MLS rights were acquired by the Chicago Fire. In exchange for the veteran MLS defender, the club sent a second round selection in the 2016 SuperDraft back to Orlando City SC.
While only Gehrig's rights were acquired in the swap, the defender is in the final stages of completing his contract with the Fire. When he does, he'll become the second Chicagoland kid and former Chicago Fire PDL back home this offseason after Michael Stephens was acquired Tuesday.
“Honestly there aren’t any words to give justice to how thrilled I am to come back to Chicago,” Gehrig told Chicago-Fire.com Thursday “The Fire have been in my blood since I was a kid in the stands at Soldier Field watching Piotr Nowak and Josh Wolff.
“I’ve worked hard throughout my career, this is something I’ve always had in the back of my mind and I can’t believe it’s actually happening.”
Along with a homecoming, the acquisition reunites the 26-year-old defender with Fire Technical Director Brian Bliss, who serving in the same role with Crew SC for six years, signed Gehrig as a free agent in 2011 after playing collegiately at Chicago’s Loyola University.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Brian,” Gehrig said. “I knew he respected and admired me as a player and I thought we got along really well in Columbus. “When he left, I thanked him not knowing he was going to end up in Chicago. He’s a great guy and between him and Frank Yallop and the rest of the staff, it’s the kind of group I want to work for and be a part of.”
Though Bliss may be a catalyst in Gehrig coming to Chicago, he clearly fits the mold of a player Yallop is looking for as well.
“Eric’s got good MLS experience and will bring versatility to our back line,” said the Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer.
As he’s gone about filling the empty space on his roster for 2015, Yallop indicated Gehrig had been a target since the start of offseason.
“We’ve had many talks with Columbus about him and then we were finally able to get it done through the Expansion Draft, which is great. It adds a good, experienced defender to our team, we’ve got to add more but we’re starting to see the squad come together more for next season.”
A natural center back, Gehrig also filled in as a right back at times with Columbus where he made 46 regular season appearances from 2011-2014. Gehrig made a career-high 20 appearances for Crew SC this past season.
“Center back is more natural to me but I had a good run at right back with Columbus in a demanding system,” Gehrig said. “I like getting into the attack, whipping in balls and assisting offensively. I’m open to play wherever the team needs me.”
Yallop added, “I’ve always liked the style he plays. He’s solid, works hard and is coming here to push for a place in our lineup.”
Gehrig is already well acquainted with many of his new teammates, having trained in the area during the offseason with Mike Magee, Michael Stephens, Patrick Nyarko, newly retired Fire midfielder Logan Pause as well as other Chicago-area players from around MLS.
“I have a good rapport with all those guys. I’m excited to get to work with them.”
While it’s not always planned to grab local guys, it’s something the Fire manager thinks works out well.
“They settle easier,” he said. “He wants to do well for his hometown, I know that. Having Eric come and play in front of friends and family, the fans that are going to be coming, is something special for any player.”
More than anything, Gehrig says he’s looking forward to a fresh start with the Fire.
“It’ll be good to get in front of new eyes. The staff obviously thinks highly of me as a player but I’m looking forward to a new opportunity. There’s been some turnover but if there’s a spot up for grabs and I can win it then that’s going to be my goal.
“More than anything I’m looking to help turn the Fire around and getting it back to where the club belongs towards the upper echelon of the league. My heart is in Chicago and I’m beyond ecstatic the way it played out.”