Chris Brady has countless takeaways from his first season as a professional, which came to end with Forward Madison’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution II on Oct. 24.
Things like patience, game management, and getting the small details right all came to mind, each part of a solid foundation for the 16-year-old goalkeeper and 2020 Chicago Fire Homegrown signing to continue building upon coming out of his loan experience with the Fire’s USL League One affiliate.
Those are all things one might expect a young player to absorb from their first experience in the pros. Then there’s the more obscure, unanticipated stuff. Like, making sure you don’t skip the pregame meal before you make your professional debut.
“I didn’t eat enough, so I got to the game and I was hungry,” Brady said laughing. “Very hungry.”
Amid a tight late-August turnaround between games, Brady’s patience was rewarded. He arrived in Madison on loan alongside fellow 2020 Homegrown signees Alex Monis and Allan Rodríguez on July 24, but didn’t factor into the team’s plans quite as quickly as his Fire teammates. Monis, 17, and Rodríguez, 16, made their professional debuts with the club in late July and early August, respectively.
Seeing an opportunity for rotation between Madison’s Aug. 19 match with Union Omaha and their Aug. 23 visit from Orlando City SC, then-head coach Daryl Shore deemed Brady ready for his shot.
“Daryl talked to me the day before and told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to start against Orlando,’” he said. “Personally, I tried to keep the coolest, calmest head I could, but obviously it’s your first pro start so you get those butterflies inside.”
“I don’t get nervous before games, even as big as this,” he added. “I get more anxious, if you will. Just like, ‘Come on, put me on the field already. Let’s blow the whistle and start playing.’ So it was a mix of hungry and anxious in the warmups prior to the game.”
Hunger pangs aside, Brady made sure to keep things casual and conversational in the locker room before the game while staying focused on remembering his teachings to date.
Prior to signing for the Fire first team in March, he was a Chicago Fire Academy standout under goalkeeper coach Igor Dimov who’d made 48 appearances across the Club’s U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels. He also earned his first international call-up in 2019 as well, taking part in a U-15 U.S. Boys’ National Team domestic training camp in Carson, Calif.
“I was trying to keep a calm head, nothing too crazy, not getting too excited, because that’s what will end up throwing off your game,” he said. “Going into it, I was just trying to focus in on all the things you do to prep for the game, making sure everything is right.
“That first shot came at me, and I think I was actually mispositioned now that I think about it. But I made the save, and that set me up for the rest of the game. Once you make the first one, then the second one, third one, and fourth one come easier. I made the first save, and from there I got into the groove a little bit.”
Madison would come out with a 3-1 win over Orlando that day, while Brady would go on to start the final seven matches of Madison’s 2020 campaign.
While doing so, he displayed a knack for saves both acrobatic and timely, allowing just six goals total and earning a trio of clean sheets along the way. The Naperville, Ill. native was twice named Madison’s Man of the Match for his efforts, first in a 1-1 draw with Chattanooga on Oct. 17, then in a 1-0 defeat to North Texas four days later.
“Chattanooga away, we were tied 1-1. In the final 20 minutes, a guy headed the ball over my defender and was one-on-one with me. I left my foot hanging a little bit and made a foot save, just breakaway-style. That was crazy.”
While becoming a fixture in Shore's starting XI as the season progressed, Brady kept close contact with his coaches in Chicago.
"With Adin (Brown, Chicago Fire goalkeeper coach) and my Academy goalkeeper coach (Dimov), I called them frequently," he said. "It was a mix of I’d call them, then they’d call me, just checking in. My Fire teammates, same deal. Just texting and keeping up with the times. Little things like that, making sure you stay connected because ultimately that’s your home."
By season’s end, he’d played his way into contention for the USL League One Golden Glove award, given to the ‘keeper with the league’s lowest goals against average. His one goal allowed in Madison’s season finale against New England Revolution II ultimately saw him finish in second place for the honor, his 0.75 goals against average just a fraction more than winner Dallas Jaye’s (Greenville Triumph SC) average of 74.42.
Still, Brady’s first foray into the professional game was no less encouraging. With the end of the season still fresh, he was keen to reflect on his growth in year one.
“First, I learned the importance of patience,” he said. “I didn’t get my debut until halfway through the season. Getting to that halfway point, I was questioning whether I wanted to come home or not. I’m thankful that I didn’t. I waited and I waited, and my time eventually came. One thing Adin talked to me about was that he was proud that when I got the job, I held onto it. It wasn’t a one-and-done type deal. I took it and ran with it.
“The second thing would be specifically game management. There were a few instances within the games that I hadn’t had the chance to experience when playing games in the Academy. For it to be on a pro level was simply learning, managing the timing of the game and certain actions you have to take to make sure the game swings in your way or that will set up the best opportunities for your team.
“The third thing was that at any team you go to, it’s the details, the little things, the importance of your hand position and how you’re setting. All these little things were critiqued and pointed out to me up in Madison as they were in Chicago. When I really, really honed in on them in training and put my mind to it, I think it really benefitted me. I was then able to translate the things I was focusing on into the games and game situations.”
Since the USL League One season ended, Brady has returned to Chicago. It’s still to be decided what his immediate future holds, namely whether he’ll go back out on loan in 2021 or remain in Chicago to train with the Fire first team.
Whatever comes next, he’s confident in what lies ahead as long as he keeps his head down, continues learning, and, most importantly, gets his pregame calories in.
“In the coming years, definitely to get that start for the first team,” he said. “Representing your city, your club, that’s a big one. That’s a big dream. That will put a lot in perspective for me. It would mean a lot.”