When Real Salt Lake visit Chicago for a midweek encounter against the Fire on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET, MatchDay Live), several members of the team will be, quite literally, returning home.
Perhaps the most notable is Chicago Fire original C.J. Brown (pictured above in 2002), who retired after the 2010 season. Brown spent 13 seasons playing for the Men in Red and will be honored for his services after the match, marking his first return to Toyota Park as a member of another squad.
The Chicago connections, however, do not stop with Brown. In fact, RSL GM Garth Lagerwey, midfielders Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson, and defender Chris Schuler are all from the Chicagoland area. In addition, Johnson and midfielder Andy Williams have also played for the Fire, each of them alongside Brown.
Grabavoy, a standout at Lincoln-Way Central High School in suburban New Lenox — where he earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2000 — enjoys his visits back to his hometown.
“It’s a game that I look for a little bit on the schedule just because I have so many family and friends there,” said Grabavoy. “It’s a chance for all of them to get together and see me play.”
Grabavoy also indicated that the Windy City connections on the team sometimes manifest themselves in training back in Salt Lake.
“Sometimes on Fridays,” Grabavoy explained, “Jason [Kreis] will split up the teams, and the Midwest has been a team here in the past.”
He explainied that the group of Midwesterners has something in common that helps to provide a bond during the season.
“It’s definitely something we talk about, growing up — we all had roots here," Grabavoy said. "We all know the same people, and the soccer world is small.”
Johnson, meanwhile, spent a year with the Fire when he was 18 before venturing off to Europe.
"Every year coming to Chicago — it’s always exciting," he said.
However, Johnson points out that there is a higher purpose for their visit to Chi-town that extends beyond the homecoming excitement.
“You have to remember that we’re here to win a game and not to have a vacation,” pointed out the young midfielder. “I can get enough of that in the offseason.”