CHICAGO, IL - The Chicago Fire today announced that the club has acquired the rights to veteran midfielder and "Fire Original" Diego Gutierrez in a trade with the Kansas City Wizards. In return, the Fire has sent the Wizards midfielder Will John and one of its three second round selections, the 19th overall pick, in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.
"In my mind, Diego has been one of the finest players in Major League Soccer since the beginning of the League," said Fire Head Coach Dave Sarachan. "With Diego having played an important role on championship teams in the past, I feel he'll provide our team valuable experience, leadership, versatility and a championship mentality. He knows Chicago and he knows the team, and we know him, so we're all very excited to have him back in a Fire uniform."
Today's trade brings the 33-year-old Gutierrez back to the Windy City, where he enjoyed a successful stint during the club's first four seasons from 1998-2001. After Gutierrez suffered a pair of injuries to his left knee that forced him to miss the entire 1997 MLS campaign for the Wizards, the Fire gambled on the gritty Colombian midfielder by selecting him with the 15th pick of the 1997 MLS Expansion Draft. Gutierrez would prove to be an integral component for the Fire in its inaugural season of 1998, contributing three assists in 13 games during the second half of the season and topping off the campaign by scoring the Fire's second goal - and the first of his MLS career - in the 45th minute of the Fire's 2-0 victory over D.C. United in MLS Cup '98.
"First, I've got to thank the Kansas City fans for a wonderful four years. It was a terrific experience, just as I thought it would be when I originally left Chicago," said Gutierrez. "However, coming back to Chicago is a dream come true. I'm coming around full circle. This is a place that really saw me stretch my legs out professionally and really learn how to be a professional soccer player and how to become a winner. I'm extremely happy to be part of a team that going to be competitive right away, that has good leadership with tremendous veterans like Zach Thornton, Chris Armas, C.J. Brown. Even when I wasn't with the team, every time I saw the Fire on TV I was cheering for them. I'm a huge fan of the organization, so I'm just glad to be back. I'm 33 and I look at playing a few more years and then hanging them up, but not before winning a few MLS Cups in the process."
After four seasons in Chicago, the Fire would send the Lees Summit, MO native back home to the Wizards on Feb. 5, 2002 in return for a first round selection (5th overall) in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft. Gutierrez left Chicago near the top of the team's charts in several categories and still ranks in fifth on the Fire in career assists (26) and game-winning assists (7), in addition to tenth place in games started (80), corner kicks (60) and fouls suffered (134). The versatile left-sided player has registered 10 goals and 39 assists across his nine MLS seasons, during which he has appeared in 208 regular season contests, placing him tied with Real Salt Lake striker Jeff Cunningham for 17th on the League's all-time list in the category. Gutierrez returns to Chicago with his family, which includes wife Ginna, daughters Mia (7) and Lina (6) and son Javier (2).
Like Gutierrez, John is a Kansas City-area native, having grown up a fan of the Wizards during his days in suburban Overland Park, KS. The Fire selected the U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team stalwart in the second round (18th overall) of the 2005 MLS SuperDraft, but the 20-year-old saw little playing time during his rookie season, collecting one assist in 200 minutes of play across six regular season appearances (two starts). John did flourish in the new MLS Reserve Division in 2005, finishing the Division's inaugural campaign third on the Fire Reserves with three goals and tied for third on the squad with two assists in nine games, all starts. John missed a month of the 2005 MLS campaign when he and Fire teammate Chad Barrett joined the U.S. U-20s for the FIFA World Youth Championships in Holland last June, during which made one appearance, earning a starting nod in the USA's 1-0 victory over Egypt in group play.
"I want to thank Will John for his year with us. Although we only saw him for one season, I feel that Will has great potential as a young player in this League," Sarachan said. "I have no doubt that, given the right opportunity, he can be a very productive player in MLS, but unfortunately in order to get good players you have to move good players. In this case I think it has worked out for both parties because he'll have the chance to get that opportunity in his hometown."
With today's trade, the Fire will enter the upcoming MLS SuperDraft with five of the draft's 48 picks, including the 10th overall selection. The Fire currently holds three slots in the draft's second round - the 14th, 20th and 22nd overall selections - but will be forced to hand over one of those picks to FC Dallas to complete last year's draft day deal that sent goalkeeper Henry Ring to Dallas in exchange for the 29th overall selection in last year's draft. Chicago will round out the MLS SuperDraft with its natural third round (34th overall) and fourth round (46th overall) selections. The 2006 MLS SuperDraft will be held on Friday, Jan. 20 in Philadelphia, PA in conjunction with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.