Fire's basketball-playing rookie finds his feet in Chicago
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — When Tony Walls walked into the locker room during the Chicago Fire’s preseason trip to Charleston, S.C., he saw a jersey with his name printed on the back.
The 47th pick in the Supplemental Draft was still trying to make the team, so every little indication that he was getting closer to that goal was exciting. He immediately took a picture of it and posted it to Twitter.
“That was a pretty good sign,” Walls said with a smile. “I guess I didn’t realize they do it right in the locker room, so it wasn’t that much of a process, but just to walk in there and see my name on the back of a jersey was like, ‘Wow, I’m that much closer.’”
Walls saw two players picked ahead of him cut from the team during the preseason, so every step in the process was stressful. He was still adjusting to a new position, right back, after playing in central midfield throughout college, and communication with the front office was non-existent.
Finally, the Fire offered Walls a contract in the week leading up to the team’s first game.
“There’s a little weight lifted off my chest,” Walls said at the time.
Walls hasn’t seen any first-team time through the Fire’s first three games, and doesn’t figure to see time for a while with Logan Pause backing up Dan Gargan at right back.
But coach Frank Klopas has liked what he’s seen from the young right back, who can also play holding midfielder.
“He can defend well and he’s got good feet, those are good abilities to have,” Klopas said. “We knew he had the flexibility to play a few spots.”
It’s not the first time Walls made a change in order to play a sport he loves. He was set to play basketball and soccer at Marquette until basketball coach Tom Crean left to take over at Indiana. New basketball coach Buzz Williams had no interest in the two-sport athlete, so Walls went to Wisconsin-Green Bay instead.
He only played one season of basketball, but the decision to go to a smaller school was worth it, he said.
“It was really cool,” Walls said. “It was a really good experience, I’ve been playing basketball longer than I’ve been playing soccer.”
Now, he’s part of a young group of backup defenders that also includes Hunter Jumper and Austin Berry. The three live together in an apartment in the South Loop in downtown Chicago. Walls isn't happy just being on the team, though. He is focused on how to make the next step up but knows there’s a lot of work left to do.
“Now, the focus is, where do I want to go in my career,” he said. “Do I want to be a player that’s one year and done, or do I want to play for 10 years and maybe go to Europe?”
Tony Walls Combine Video