CHICAGO – Chicago Fire defender Pari Pantazopolous has had quite the eight months.
The Chicagoland product won the Fire’s open tryout this winter and then, improbably, won a roster spot during the preseason. He took another step on his unlikely journey Saturday afternoon, coming on in the final minutes of the Fire’s 3-1 loss to Premier League champions Manchester United in front of a sellout crowd in a Herbalife World Football Challenge match at Soldier Field.
The experience isn’t one he’ll soon forget.
“It’s a huge journey for me,” Pantazopolous said. “To start from the open tryout… it’s just unbelievable. To have that feeling, you in front of 60,000 fans, it’s awesome to be part of the team, to watch the best guys in the world and play the best players in the world.
“I’m excited and, like I said, dreams do really come true,” he said. “I had fun, even if it was just for five minutes.”
Pantazopolous, who said he was “50-50” for the match due to a knee injury he picked up in training on Friday, was a little worried he wasn’t going to play, but knew he’d get in once the Fire gave up the third goal in the 82nd minute.
“I was looking at the time and [was worried],” he said. “But I think after the third goal came in it was time and it was good to be out there and be part of the game.”
“When [interim head coach Frank Klopas] called my name, ‘Yo, 24 you’re in…,’ it was just awesome,” he said. “From an open tryout and now playing against Manchester United – it’s a dream come true, that’s all I got to say.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.