In a Fire midfield packed with veteran and international-caliber talent, 18-year-old Fire Homegrown Djordje Mihailovic made the most of a rookie campaign spent alongside some of the best tutors a young professional could ask for.
By season's end, Mihailovic had earned a significant role for the Eastern Conference's third-place squad, appearing in 17 league matches with seven starts, including the last four games of the regular season as well as the MLS Cup Playoffs. And although that postseason shift ended with an unfortunate injury that will be with him into 2018, the Chicago Fire Academy product has a trove of positive moments from this season to carry him through his recovery. Check out 5 in the list below:
March 11 — MLS Debut
Mihailovic didn't need to wait long to record his debut appearance with the Fire first team. He was listed in the matchday squad for the first time in Chicago's home-opener and second game of the year, a 2-0 win over RSL on March 11. Mihailovic entered the game in second-half stoppage time, bringing to fruition a dream that was years in the making.
“Four years ago I came to the Fire Academy for this very moment,” he would say after the match. “I was thinking about it every day I went to train with the academy. This is what I’m preparing for. Everything finally came together that I’ve prepared for for the last four years, so it was amazing.”
August 1 — MLS Homegrown Game at Toyota Park
As the global stars of MLS and Real Madrid descended on Chicago for the 2017 MLS All-Star Game, Djordje Mihailovic led a collection of the best young talent in MLS as the Homegrown Game came to Toyota Park on August 1. The Fire's hometown, Homegrown star captained the side and took the reins in central midfield against the Chivas de Guadalajara U-20s, opening the game's scoring in the first minute and going the full 90 minutes in an exciting 2-2 draw. (Watch an All-Access look at the Homegrown Game in the video at the top of the page.)
“It’s every kid’s dream to score in front of the home crowd,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “To play in the All-Star Game, representing the home club and home city, to score is another thing to add to that, so I’m definitely honored and it was a great experience for me.”
August 16 — First MLS Start
Having compiled 106 minutes through the Fire's first 23 league matches, Mihailovic was called on for his first MLS start when the Fire traveled to Montreal while enduring their first extended dip in form of the year. While the result was a forgettable 3-0 scoreline for the hosts, Djordje had his first start under his belt and would appear in all but one match the rest of the way for the Men In Red.
September 2 — First MLS Assist
Just over two weeks after that match in Montreal, the Fire returned to Stade Saputo and this time picked up a pivotal three points against the Impact. Mihailovic provided the secondary assist on the lone goal of the match, playing Matt Polster to the end line to set up Bastian Schweinsteiger in the 59th minute.
September 27 — First MLS Goal
With the Fire coming off a difficult loss at Philadelphia and eager to punch their ticket to the postseason, Mihailovic got the starting nod on a midweek visit to fellow playoff-hopeful San Jose Earthquakes. Djordje made an instant impact, matching his No. 14 jersey number with a 14th-minute strike for his first professional goal, and later in the first half recording an assist on Luis Solignac's finish in the 40th minute. The goal-and-assist performance, along with another 90-minute shift on the weekend vs. NYCFC, landed Djordje a place on the MLS Team of the Week.
On October 25, Mihailovic again was in the Starting XI as his club played and hosted its first MLS Cup Playoffs match since 2012, another moment that will stand out when Mihailovic looks back at his rookie MLS campaign, and one that will remain fresh in his mind as he preps for his second act in MLS.