Entering his third season as a professional, Chicago Fire Homegrown product Drew Conner is looking to take another step forward.
After a 2017 season that saw him thrown into multiple roles on the field, Conner flashed that same versatility and brought a welcome energy as a second half substitution in Saturday night’s 2-2 draw against Portland. The 24-year-old hardly put a foot wrong on the night, missing his target on just two pass attempts while contributing a key pass (one defined as leading to a shot on goal) and adding eight defensive actions along the right side of the field.
Following the final whistle, head coach Veljko Paunovic had this to say about Conner’s performance:
“Drew matured a lot in the last two years. We’re very happy also that he can – as you could see – he played very well as a midfielder, then we switched the formation and he played on the right side. He still has to learn some defensive principles in that position, but I think offensively and in the midfield he can give a solid, solid performance. In keeping the concentration and working a little bit more on his decision making, I think he can be very helpful for the team.”
Now three matches in to 2018, the Cary, Ill. native is looking to keep making strides in year three in MLS. After a rookie year without an appearance in 2016, Conner’s name was called 21 times in his sophomore season, which included eight starts. A big factor in his on-going maturity as player is simply – in Conner’s own words – an expanding comfort level on the field.
“I think it could mean a number of different things, but I think for myself I feel a lot more comfortable on the field and I’m trying to create more of an impact on the field when I get my opportunities then just simply playing a role,” he said. “As I’ve been given minutes this year, I’m trying to change the game whether that’s helping the team offensively if I’m playing out wide, or if it’s trying to close a game out and helping defensively. I think I can bring a lot to the table on both sides of the ball.”
Conner’s positional flexibility on the field has been an asset to both the team as well as his evolution as a pro. Most recently, Conner’s 31-minute shift on Saturday saw him enter the match at midfield in the 59th minute to replace Tony Tchani. Then, when Alan Gordon came on in the 75th with the team pushing for an equalizer, Conner then slid to right back to cover for the substituted Kevin Ellis but continuing to provide support going forward.
“I think I definitely grew a bit from last season, just having gotten some experience and a few starts and a number of appearances,” he said. “I think learning how to play a number of different roles on the team and being able to perform them as expected when I‘m called upon has been a turning point for me.”
“If we need a goal, I’m going to try and bring energy and I’m going to try and bring a little bit of creativity offensively to try and make something happen,” he added, referencing Saturday’s match in particular. “Obviously if I was coming into the game and we were winning 3-2 or 4-2, you would’ve seen a different Drew Conner. I was just trying to cater to what I thought the team needed in that moment.”
Conner picked up his first career assist in a 3-0 rout of D.C. United in September of last season, helping tee up Arturo Alvarez for a swerving cross the Brandon Vincent famously went full stretch to head home.
In year three, Conner believes his next step is filling up the stat sheet even further.
“Obviously I just want to help this team as much as I possibly can regardless of the position I’m playing,” he said. “My personal goals are just to build on the season I had last year: play more, put up numbers, put up assists, and hopefully a few goals.”
The Fire are back in action Saturday night (April 7) when Eastern Conference rivals Columbus Crew SC make their first of two 2018 visits to Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. CT, MLS LIVE | TICKETS)