The Chicago Fire started adding to its roster for the 2018 season with a local athlete.
Fire officials announced Wednesday they have signed 6-foot-4 central defender Grant Lillard as a homegrown player. Lillard, 22, is a product of Hinsdale Central High School, the Fire's academy and Indiana University, where he was a Hermann Trophy finalist this year as a senior.
He is the Fire's first roster addition of the off-season.
"It's a dream come true to sign with my hometown club. After moving here in high school, this is where I set as my goal to play," Lillard said in a team release. "Even with the academy, we always talked about what it means to represent the Chicago Fire and wear the badge. To be able to do it now at the senior level and in front of hometown fans is an unbelievable honor."
Lillard's addition brings the Fire roster to 19, but that includes Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic. De Leeuw and Mihailovic each suffered torn ACLs late in the 2017 season and are not expected to play before June at the earliest.
Lillard, the 10th homegrown signing in Fire history, will compete with Christian Dean and Jonathan Campbell to start next to Johan Kappelhof on the Fire's back line in the spot that opened when Joao Meira left the club this off-season.
"Grant was always highly regarded by the club and it's nice to see that his progression under Todd Yeagley at Indiana University has allowed this signing," said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. "He has obvious qualities and, with experience and refinement, has a chance to be a dominant player."
Three other college players are considered possible future Fire homegrown signings: left back Andrew Gutman, Lillard's teammate at Hinsdale Central and Indiana; central defender/defensive midfielder Mauricio Pineda, of Bolingbrook and North Carolina; and central midfielder Cam Lindley, of Indianapolis and North Carolina.
The Fire opens the 2018 season at home March 10 against Sporting Kansas City. Preseason camp opens Jan. 22, three days after the MLS SuperDraft.
Lillard is signed for the 2018 and 2019 seasons with club options for 2020 and 2021.