When Chicago Fire FC host CF Montréal this Saturday (1 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) at Soldier Field, it’ll mark the first time Djordje Mihailovic has squared off against his boyhood club.
Since the US men’s national team midfielder was traded within the Eastern Conference this past offseason, he’s enjoyed a resurgence of sorts. Two goals and one assist through seven matches only reinforces that, with Mihailovic a creative hub in head coach Wilfried Nancy's vision.
Even though their one-time homegrown star is creating new memories, Chicago head coach Raphael Wicky said there’s no regrets over the move that involved up to $1 million in General Allocation Money heading back to the Windy City for the 22-year-old’s services.
“Look, there was never a doubt in Djordje's qualities,” Wicky said. “We never doubted that. I think [sporting director] Georg [Heitz] has said that the club made him an offer. We wanted to keep Djordje here but I don't really need to go deep into that now. At the end of the day, I think both parties decided that it's time to part ways and to go.
“But we have never doubted in Djordje's quality. Djordje has always shown his qualities here. He's a good player. He has offensive talent and he shows that here and he shows it again in Montréal. I am not surprised about that. But we all made the decision together and we stick to that decision. There's no regrets. That's football.”
Earlier this month, Mihailovic reflected on his four years in Chicago during an interview with MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert. He expressed an understanding of the business-like nature of soccer, especially as he entered the final year of his Fire FC contract. During 73 regular-season games with the club, he totaled seven goals and 14 assists.
“My first thought and opportunity would have been re-signing in Chicago, if the circumstances were right, if they had the same belief that Montréal showed. ... It was really frustrating," Mihailovic said at the time. "I set out a goal of mine when I started my career, I wanted to be an important player for that club. The ups and downs over the four years, twists and turns, I had really good moments, but mentally outside the game it took a toll on me. I was always one of the earliest to the facility and the last to leave, but towards the end, I wanted to leave as soon as training was over. I wasn’t happy at all.
"Rapha Wicky wanted me back, in end-of-the-year meetings he was under the impression I was going to come back, but I met with the directors and we agreed it was best for me and the club [to move on]," he continued. "I have nothing against the club, they’ve given me everything. It’s just one of those things, nobody is bigger than the club. The club will have to do what’s best for themselves, I know that.”
However, watching Mihailovic duel with the likes of Mauricio Pineda and Alvaro Medran will take some getting used to. Until this past December, he seemed like a long-term cornerstone for his hometown side.
Reunion aside, Chicago are hoping to build off their first victory of the 2021 season. They earned a 1-0 home win over Inter Miami CF last weekend, and now could secure three more crucial points heading into the early-June international break.
“It was one win and it's a start,” Wicky said. “We want more, we want this feeling. We want to get used to this feeling every week and so for that we have to keep working hard. There's no reason or time to relax or to think we have done anything.
“This was a first win and now we just have to continue being very, very concentrated and focused and that's been the training. The training was good, focused of course. Everyone has a better mood, especially in the beginning of the week when you come back after the game two days later.”