Trailing at halftime of Saturday’s match against the Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic opted to make a switch.
On came rookie Diego Campos in place of midfielder Aleksandar Katai to inject some spirit into a Fire attack that had yet to score through the game's first 45 minutes.
“He just wanted me to bring more energy into the team, get in between the lines, and do my job,” Campos said.
Campos, the 39th overall selection in this year’s MLS SuperDraft out of Clemson, slotted into the right side of the field to make his professional debut and look to combine with midfielders Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger and fellow second-half substitution Drew Conner.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while, even though it was not the result that we wanted as a team,” Campos said. “We wanted to get the win, but I’m happy for the debut.”
A back-and-forth second half saw three goals scored and a 2-2 final in a share of the points at Toyota Park. Campos was active on the right side, and nearly snuck a curling effort of his own past Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, beating a man inside the Timbers’ 18 and sending a left-footed attempt just wide in the 79th minute.
“I think I did ok,” he said. “Again, my job was to bring more energy, put the ball in the penalty box. I thought we did that and that’s why we scored two goals. The crosses from the guys were great and the finishes were great.”
Paunovic offered up his own assessment of Campos’ performance following the final whistle.
“He came in, he gave us a little more calmness with the ball," Paunovic said. "He found very good gaps, we found him. Dax connected very well with him. That gave us that transition from our end, from our half to their half, in the final third also. The build-up in our first goal was related to that transition and that fluidity of our play. He understands very well how we want to play.
“We want to take very carefully his introduction to the team and stepping in just like we did with Elliot (Collier),” Paunovic added. “We don’t want to burn the young player, but we also see and feel the desire that he has and wants to deliver to the team and to deliver to our organization and our fans. At this point, we are very happy with the progress and we expect also that he has also a high ceiling.”
Now, with his first professional minutes behind him, the Costa Rican rookie is grateful for the confidence he’s been shown early into the season.
“It’s great when the coaches are behind you, and also my teammates have been doing a great job," Campos said. "I love the team. They’ve always been talking to me after practice anytime I'm asking questions. The support from the team and the coaching staff has been great.”
The Fire are back in action at home next Saturday, April 7, against Columbus Crew SC (7:30 p.m. CT, MLS LIVE | TICKETS).