Damian Las with the Chicago Fire
Courtesy of Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire GM reacts as academy standout Damian Las heads to Fulham

Long rumored but made official Tuesday, US youth international goalkeeper and former Chicago Fire academy standout Damian Las has swapped Chicago for London, officially joining English side Fulham.

Las, 17, is a regular across various USYNT levels, including most recently with the Under-17s. A highly touted teenager, the Fire had long been in touch with Las about their plan and worked to keep him in the organization.

"On two occasions we shared with Damian and his father a plan for his development," Fire GM and president Nelson Rodriguez told MLSsoccer.com. "Those plans contemplated his expressed desire to keep open the possibility of going to college but they also included an offer to sign with us as a Homegrown player."

After a shakeup in the club's academy a few years ago, the Fire opted not to field U-18/U-19 sides this season, which would have ostensibly left Las without regular academy minutes.

"Our plan did not include Damian participating with the academy team on a full-time basis," Rodriguez said. "It was our intention to have him train with the first team, take experiences abroad and eventually move into a starting role with a USL team. His time with the U-19 academy team would have been to ensure he had enough games this year only."

Earlier this year, MLS announced the league would begin to assert training compensation claims per FIFA regulations and seek FIFA-administered solidarity payments, something it hadn't participated in before. In years past, the Fire would have lost Las to Fulham without any sort of reimbursement but now they are due a yet-to-be determined amount of money. A league source tells MLSsoccer.com that the Fire could receive in the neighborhood of $250,000 if all goes well.

"MLS will work to recover our due training compensation," Rodriguez said. "The fee is determined by a formula set by FIFA."

Las wasn't the only highly rated 'keeper in the Fire academy this season. In March, Chicago inked Gabriel Slonina, then 14-years-old, to a Homegrown deal, making him the second-youngest player in MLS history to sign a contract behind only Freddy Adu.

"The only similarity between the two players is the position they play," Rodriguez said. "As in every case, each situation has its own unique characteristics. We proposed a sporting plan to Gabriel and his family. They felt it was a proper plan and agreed to the offer."

With Homegrown midfielder Djordje Mihailovic a key member of the first team and fellow Homegrown Jeremiah Gutjahr also making contributions in 2019, Rodriguez feels the academy is coming along, regardless of where a player like Las signs.

"We don’t feel any sense of validation because a player signed abroad," Rodriguez said. "We are proud of the care we give to our student-athletes, both on and off the field of play. In the last three years we have had 17 different players invited to 56 youth national team camps, 12 academy players train with the first team, six academy players sign pro contracts and placed 98% of our academy players into college, nearly all on scholarships. Most people already know we are a top academy."

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