Collin Fernandez decided the time is right to become a professional soccer player. The Chicago Fire agreed.
Fernandez, a 17-year-old midfielder from Downers Grove, became the Fire's fifth homegrown player, signing with the team Thursday. He will join the first-team roster in January.
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"It looked like it was in my best interest," Fernandez said after training with the first team Thursday. "It's always been my dream to be a professional soccer player. The sooner the better is the way I looked at it."
Fernandez has been playing with the Fire Academy since he was 13 and played his first reserve match at 16. He recently returned from playing with the U.S. U-18 national team in a tournament in the Czech Republic. He had a goal and 2 assists in three games, helping the Americans win all three games and the tournament.
"I see myself as, like, a two-way midfielder. I get up and down the field," he said. "I'll work hard. I'll never stop working. Very good attacking-wise, but I'll work defensively also. But my main attribute, I would say, is going forward with the ball."
Fernandez credited Fire veteran midfielder Logan Pause for helping him develop.
"I've always looked up to Logan since Day 1, when I was 15 years old. He was there to push me through every single training session. He gets on me every training session. When I'm playing well he compliments me. He's always there to keep pushing me."
Fernandez is the third homegrown player the Fire has signed this year. Harry Shipp, of Lake Forest and Notre Dame, and Chris Ritter, of Winnetka and Northwestern, signed last winter. Both have contributed to the Fire first team this season, and Shipp is considered a MLS rookie of the year candidate.
Fernandez hopes to follow in their footsteps.
"Those guys have come up through college and they've worked very hard and look where they are today," Fernandez said. "They're playing and it's really good for them."