In December, we asked our youngest Homegrown players to open up on what it means to represent a city like Chicago professionally at such a young age, and how they’re working to inspire the next generation of kids coming up behind them.
The results became a three-part video series, “The Homegrowns” presented by adidas, which launched just before the new year.
Across each topic, the group's responses had a clear and central theme: Chicago meets hard work head-on, and hard work makes anything possible. It’s how these guys got to where they are today, and how they’ll get to where they’re going.
Most of the group -- all still in their teenage years -- were rookies in what was an abnormal and challenging 2020 season. With the promise of a new season and new opportunities ahead, they’re carrying Chicago on their shoulders into 2021 and beyond.
In an extension of our “The Homegrowns” video series, Chris Brady, Javier Casas Jr., Brian Gutiérrez, Alex Monis, Allan Rodríguez, Gabriel Slonina, and Nick Slonina elaborate on growing up with the sport in Chicago:
ChicagoFireFC.com: What does it mean to you to be a “Chicago football player”? What traits do you think are native to someone who’s grown up in and around this city?
Allan Rodríguez, 16, MF: “We’re very hard working. We never stop working on the field. We’re always playing to the very end, doesn’t matter what’s happening. We’ll always give you a good fight and we never back down. You could be the most famous team, and we’ll still try to give you a fight. It’s just who we are. We’re strong mentally and physically. We’re just different a different breed.”
Alex Monis, 17, MF: “The biggest thing is working hard. You’re on a team with ten other guys on the field. You have to be able to do everything for the guy next to you. That embodies what a Chicago Fire player is.”
Brian Gutiérrez, 17, MF: “Competitive, eager to win, technical, smart and a hard worker.”
Javier Casas, 17, MF: “If a scout were to find a player and they would say it’s a Chicago player, they would be seeing the aggressiveness. One of the points growing up throughout my life from every coach that I had is being very aggressive when defending. Not letting players go by to easily.”
CFFC.com: What example does it set for the next generation of young players growing up in Chicago to see so many hometown kids representing the city on the first team at such a young age?
Chris Brady, 16, GK: “To the kids of Chicago, I think it means a lot. Us being signed as Homegrowns, it shows that it’s possible. With hard work you can break through and get to this level. I think it’s good to show that the youth of this city has something they can play for.”
Nick Slonina, 19, D: “Having all of these younger faces on the team is an inspiration for the younger guys in the Academy. Not only in the Academy, but anyone that looks at this team and is seeing guys that signed at 15 or 16 years old. It’s a huge push of motivation and it’s extremely helpful to see something like that. All of these kids desire to be professional soccer players. Seeing Gaga, seeing Guti, seeing Javi, seeing Brady, seeing Allan, seeing Monis, seeing all of these young guys, I think it’s awesome. It gives the little kids a little more inspiration to get there at an even faster pace than these guys did.”
Gabriel Slonina, 16, GK: “For the younger kids, seeing so many Academy players from the older generation get into the pro team, I think it's a huge motivation for them. Because if we did it then they can do it, as well. With so many guys from the Academy coming up to the pro team and being successful there, that’s huge. That’s a huge inspiration for them and I hope it makes them work even harder to get them where they want to be. They can for sure do it if we did it.”
Rodríguez: “For the next generation of Chicago kids, seeing kids our age and my age and even a little bit older in the first team representing the city, it shows them that they can make it. They just have to stick to it. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Just keep grinding and one day you’ll finally be up there. You just have to put in the work, the hours, and it might take a lot of sacrifice, but if you’re willing to do it, you’ll make it.
Gutiérrez: “Just always believe that you can make it. Don’t ever give up on your dream because you never know what’s going to happen. Never say never. As young guys, we should be a role model for them. We should always give them advice. Just seeing us on the field should give them a motivation of, 'Oh, I can do the same thing or I can do it better than them.'”
CFFC.com: How much extra meaning does it carry for you to pull on the crest of your hometown club every time you suit up?
Casas: "It means a lot. Throughout these years I’m here I really want to be the best of myself for me and my family and the city. I want good things for this club because it’s my hometown. I grew up here my whole life, and I think I should be the best of myself and try to get trophies back into this club."
Gutiérrez: “You represent your city. You represent the people behind you. You’re representing your family and the neighborhood you used to live in. You represent every part of the city. It’s a dream come true to be representing your city with the hard work you put in.”
Monis: "It means a lot to play for the club that I’ve grown up around. It’s such a cool experience to be able to play in front of family and friends that I’ve grown up around and to represent them and the city. It’s just something very special to me."
G. Slonina: “To be able to represent my city and my club at a professional level…it’s huge. It’s amazing to be able to wear the crest and play for it and train for it everyday. It just goes to show that hard work will really take you to wherever you want to end up in life. I’m a normal kid. It’s all just mentality, hard work, and really wanting to get where you want to be. It’s just a lot of sacrifices. It’s really amazing to be where I’m at today.”
CFFC.com: If you can close your eyes and envision walking out of the tunnel at Soldier Field, looking out and seeing the city’s skyline, then taking the field in front of thousands of your fellow Chicagoans, what emotions does that stir up?
N. Slonina: “This year was tough not being able to see the fans in the stadium, but hopefully next year everything will get back to normal. We have the greatest fans behind us and the city, I know that for a fact. I know they’re itching to watch us play again. The fans do a really big part in supporting us and we do it all for them.”
Casas: “It would be something else. It was already something being able to be on the field at Soldier Field even without fans, and I can only imagine how it would feel to have 50,000 or 60,000 people around the stands watching the whole team play, watching you play. It would be awesome.”
G. Slonina: “I can’t wait for it. Playing in front of a packed stadium on the lakefront would be so amazing. Even empty the stadium looks beautiful. Every time I walk out from that tunnel it’s a reminder of how grateful I should be and how much of a blessing it is to walk out on that field. The stadium is huge. Packed, it’s going to be amazing.”
Brady: “What I feel when I drive by Soldier Field, it’s a sense of almost imagination. You think it’s not too good to be true, but just something that’s out of reach. But now, I think definitely for the Homegrowns of this team, we realize that it’s not so far out of reach. It could be as soon as maybe next year, and that - to us - is just magical. The sense of being there, playing in a packed stadium and obviously representing your team and your city. I think those are things that you can’t take for granted.”