BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Pari Pantazopolous completed an amazing four-month journey on Monday, when he officially signed a contract with the Chicago Fire.
The 22-year-old midfielder/defender beat out 210 players from 19 countries to win the club’s open tryout in December. His prize: a chance to train with the first team in preseason.
Pantazopolous took full advantage of that opportunity, working hard and surviving every single roster cut to earn a deal. Signing the contract is a dream come true for the Greek-born, Chicagoland-raised Pantazopolous, who has been a Fire fan since the club’s founding.
“I’m amazed,” Pantazopolous told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s so exciting. It’s like every Chicago kid’s dream to be a part of the Fire. This was the team I always rooted for, always cheered for and went to every single home game. It’s just an amazing feeling; I’m really excited and I’d just like to thank the Fire for giving me this chance.”
Of course, if it weren’t for a brief moment of curiosity and a quick click of the mouse, Pantazopolous would never have been here.
After spending three years playing in lower divisions in Cyprus and Greece, Pantazopolous returned to Chicago this summer to be closer to family and friends. Pantazopolous, who doesn’t have an agent, didn’t have many soccer prospects – until he logged on to the Fire’s official website and saw an ad for the team’s open tryout.
“I was home one day and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the Fire?’” he said. “So I clicked on the site and the first thing that popped up was the tryout info. It said, ‘It could be you,’ so I signed up for it.”
Pantazopoulos started training after signing up for the tryout, getting into shape and sharpening his touch with MLS and college players at an indoor facility this winter. From there he went into the open tryout, determined to work hard, play simple and let things run their course.
“I didn’t worry about anything,” he said. “I just tried to work hard and play tough, aggressive and simple.”
That was good enough for the Fire, who picked Pantazopolous as their winner and eventually saw enough in him to give him a first-team deal.
“It’s an amazing feeling and shows how hard work pays off,” he said. “I’ve been playing hard, trying to listen to veteran players and the coaching staff everyday and go from there. I’m still young and I’m still developing, so it’s going to take time for me to adjust to the first team. But I’ll be honored to work hard with them and eventually when my chance comes I’ll be ready.
“The only thing I can do is stay positive and work hard,” he added. “If I do that I’ll keep getting better.”