BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — It took a while, but Daniel Paladini’s finally getting his shot in MLS.
The Chicago Fire midfielder made just eight top-flight appearances in his first five seasons as a pro, bouncing around MLS and spending three years in lower divisions before landing a spot with the Fire this offseason.
The 26-year-old midfielder didn’t see any of the field at the beginning of 2011, riding the bench for the first six matches. That all changed when midfielder Logan Pause got hurt in the build-up to the Fire’s April 30 match at Colorado, opening up a spot in the starting lineup that Paladini has now held for the last three games.
“It’s exciting,” Paladini said of his increased playing time. “Obviously you’ve got to be patient at some points in your career, and I think throughout my whole career, for every team I’ve played on, I’ve had to prove something, work hard and that’s just the way our business is. Now I’m taking my opportunity and trying to take advantage of it.”
At first, it didn’t look as though Paladini would take advantage of his chance. The self-described “box-to-box” center midfielder struggled in his first match, making some defensive errors and distributing poorly against the Rapids.
But he looked better in the Fire’s next two games, particularly in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Toronto FC. The former Carolina RailHawk showed flashes at BMO Field, defending well, passing nicely and nearly scoring a winning goal in the 83rd minute.
“He’s got certain qualities that we like, and he’s had an opportunity in the last few games to show some of those qualities,” Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. “He’s a good player.”
Paladini’s best play against Toronto was on his near-goal. He made a great run behind the TFC defense, collecting Corben Bone's through-ball in the box for a one-on-one with keeper Stefan Frei. It looked as though he had Frei beat with a chip to the far post, but the charging goalie came up with a tremendous save to deny the Cal State Northridge product his first ever Fire goal.
Though his season would’ve been a bit sweeter had that shot gone in, Paladini said he’s been enjoying his time with the Fire so far.
“It’s great,” he said. “This is probably one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. There aren’t big head superstars, it’s a team and we care for each other.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.