Story by Shane Murray
CHICAGO (Feb. 5, 2015) -– There was no invitation necessary when the Chicago Fire Soccer Club hosted its seventh annual Open Tryouts in early December. Just the confidence and skill-under-pressure necessary to thrive in the type of opportunity that doesn’t present itself all too often.
The 2014 edition of the event welcomed 187 brave footballers to the Bridgeview Sports Dome and, at the end of two days, left the Fire with two potential additions to the first team roster. Former LA Galaxy man and Naperville native Bryan Gaul emerged as the winner and Belgian Joachim De Wilde the runner-up from the early December competition, earning the chance to play for a club contract and a place in head coach Frank Yallop’s plans.
Gaul spent two seasons with the LA Galaxy before signing for the Fire’s USL PRO affiliate club Saint Louis FC, but impressed Yallop during his first few days of camp and played 45 minutes in the Fire’s first preseason draw vs. Norwich City FC.
"It’s a really long story, but to cut it short, I was with the Galaxy for the past two-and-a-half years and last year was kind of a nightmare with the whole injury spell, and I was out for a long time,” Gaul, 25, told Chicago-Fire.com.
"Saint Louis said ‘Hey, come to the Fire and have a trial one of these days, get to train in front of the Fire staff,’ and this is my hometown club so I was pumped to go there. It worked out and I got an invite from Frank Yallop and it’s been going well so far,” he added.
De Wilde’s path to the tryouts was a little more unconventional, the 27-year-old giving up the game for over a year before deciding to give the tryouts a go after encouragement from a friend.
"A buddy of mine was keeping an eye on the tryouts, when they were and he told me I should join in and try and see what happens, and that’s what I did," the former Standaard Wetteren and V.W. Hamme player admitted.
"I came from Belgium, I didn’t know what to expect … I [had] actually stopped playing soccer. It’s been a year since I played before the tryout and I was surprised by how my level was going to be, how the level of the tryout was going to be and it all worked out for the best."
After quitting soccer in Belgium, De Wilde spent his first few months in the US training for a second assault on Ride the Rockies in Colorado, also volunteering as a soccer coach with North Central College in Naperville.
"I actually was biking a lot,” the 6’ 3” defender revealed. "I went to Ride the Rockies last June. Of course, I did it a few years before and every year I was like ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ It was so hard, so this year I’m going to be ready."
"So the first months I came to the US, every morning I would get up at 4:30 a.m. and go biking for 50-60 miles and then go to work afterwards. Those were my first five months here and after Ride the Rockies I started running again. Sometimes I was joining in with the [North Central College] guys and at that point I was like, ‘I do miss it.’ Playing with those guys I actually found the pleasure to play soccer again."
Although both players took different routes to the tryouts, their reason for being there and their ultimate goal was the same.
"I was already with the Galaxy so it was kind of weird going to an open tryout, but it worked out,” the towering, 6-foot-5 Gaul said. “As with every new guy here, I’m just trying to do my best, trying to do everything I can and try to make the team, try to get a contract."