The Chicago Fire’s offseason makeover continued Monday with just two weeks to spare before the regular season opener, as the club dealt promising young center back and 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry to the Philadelphia Union.
The Fire will receive an undisclosed amount of allocation money in exchange for the 25-year old Berry, who started 62 games over his first two seasons in the league for the club.
Berry was one of just three field players in Major League Soccer to play every minute of the regular season last year (3,060), notching one goal and two assists. Defender Jalil Anibaba – who the Fire traded away to Seattle last month for veteran John Kennedy Hurtado – also played every minute last season, leaving the Fire without two key defensive cogs heading into the first season under new head coach Frank Yallop.
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Veterans Hurtado and Bakary Soumare are now the likely opening-day starters for the Fire when they travel to face Chivas USA on March 9.
“This move was necessary in order to get to cap compliant by March 1,” said Chicago Fire head coach and director of soccer Frank Yallop in a club statement. “We thank Austin for his service to the club over the past two years and wish him the best as he takes the next steps of his career.”
Drafted ninth overall by Chicago in the 2012 SuperDraft, Berry contributed immediately as a rookie and appeared in 28 games in his first season, adding three goals. The former Louisville star was a comfortable winner in the Rookie of the Year race after helping lift the Fire to the postseason for the first time since 2009, easily topping former Cardinal teammate and D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon in the voting.
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He joins a Union team that narrowly missed the postseason last year but is in need of a center back partner for mainstay Amobi Okugo after dealing veteran Jeff Parke to D.C. United last month. They added Ethan White in that trade, but Berry is the likely starter alongside Okugo when the team opens the season on March at the Portland Timbers.
Berry will join the Union this week for preseason training in Deltona, Fla.
“Austin is a talented central defender that will add quality to our back line,” Union head coach John Hackworth said in a statement. “He already has a lot of MLS experience and we think he is the right fit to help strengthen our central defense. We’re happy to have a player of his caliber and look forward to him joining the team.”