Conner, Calistri sign with Chicago Fire
Forgive Drew Conner if he's having trouble focusing on his University of Wisconsin finals this week.
The Chicago Fire on Thursday morning announced the signing of Conner and Northwestern's Joey Calistri from its academy. Both are seniors in college. They will join the Fire for preseason training next month.
"It's going to be hard to focus on my finals," Conner said with a laugh. "I have no idea how I'm going to do this."
Conner is a midfielder from Cary-Grove High School. Calistri is a forward from Deerfield.
They are the seventh and eighth homegrown players the Fire has signed. They join Harry Shipp (Lake Forest), Patrick Doody (Naperville) and Collin Fernandez (Downers Grove) on the current roster.
"The phone's been going crazy all day. It's intense," Conner said.
With new general manager Nelson Rodriguez and new coach Veljko Paunovic working to get a handle on the Fire's roster, it naturally took a while for the club to decide to sign Conner and Calistri.
"I was definitely hoping the call would come, but obviously the backup plan was to go to the combine and hopefully get drafted if the Fire didn't pick up my option," Conner said.
He took it as a good sign when he didn't see his name on the MLS draft combine list.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking but I'm glad it happened," he said.
Calistri, named second-team all-Big Ten last season, scored 30 goals and had 10 assists in his four years at Northwestern. His best season was his sophomore campaign, when he scored 12 times.
Conner had 6 goals and 12 assists at Wisconsin, where he was team captain and played in 73 games. He has good technical skills but also is strong in the tackle. He played all over the midfield at Wisconsin but could play more as a holding midfielder with the Fire to utilize his ability to win the ball and start the attack.
If they don't win starting jobs during preseason training, both players could be loaned to USL side Saint Louis FC to get game action.
Despite having the first pick and only 15 players on the roster now, the Fire passed on Stage 2 of the league's re-entry draft for veteran players.
Also, sources say indications are that Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, who grew up in the western suburbs, will be traded to Toronto FC instead of the Fire. Johnson was born in Toronto and plays for the Canada National Team.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz