To sign with your hometown club is a dream come true for any young footballer in the United States. It’s a confirmation that the hard work you’ve put in has been recognized and rewarded.
For Allan Rodríguez, Chris Brady and Alex Monis -- three of the Fire’s most recent Homegrown signings -- that dream was put on hold, as was the rest of the sporting world, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All three signed their Homegrown contracts in March at the outset of Major League Soccer’s suspension of the 2020 regular season. Now, more than five months later, the dream has begun at last in Wisconsin with the Fire’s USL League One affiliate Forward Madison FC.
The trio of teenagers were officially loaned out on July 24, just a few days before the USL League One season kicked off, and are settling into their new digs.
Monis made his pro debut on July 25, and has so far made a total of three appearances for Madison off the bench. Rodríguez then made his professional debut on Aug. 8 by starting for the third division side against the Richmond Kickers. The goalkeeper Brady has been wowing the coaching staff in training and -- by all accounts -- is “very close” to earning his first professional start.
Monis, 17, was the first of the three to make his pro debut, which came against FC Dallas affiliate and reigning League One champs North Texas SC. He came on in the last fifteen minutes, and his first touches as a professional were exactly what you'd expect from the blazing fast out-and-out winger: positive.
Monis carried the ball for fifty yards after an outlet pass from his ‘keeper, and with a defender matching him stride for stride. When he recognized he didn’t have anything going, he simply reversed his dribble and kept possession for Forward Madison in the attacking third.
The Naperville native is a classic winger who is fearless despite being only 17 years old. He likes to run at defenders with the ball, has quick feet and is very fast. The most surprising thing to Forward Madison Head Coach Daryl Shore though, is his deep knowledge of the game.
“His soccer IQ outweighs his age,” Shore said ahead of Forward Madison’s match against Tormenta FC. “He has a good idea on how to move around the field without the ball. The biggest thing for Alex is the physical side of the game. He is still getting used to not being able to push guys off the ball.”
Monis has accrued 87 minutes in three matches for the “Mingos” and continues to impress the coaching staff with his tactical awareness. His pace, however, is not just good for his age, but rivals that of the Fire first-teamers.
“When we were down in Tampa for pre-season with the Fire…We watched Alex during the sprint drills and he was beating most of the first team guys,” Shore added.
High praise for a kid who is not done growing, but -- more importantly -- is going up against some guys who can fly. That includes the likes of Miguel Navarro, Przemysław Frankowski and Djordje Mihailović to name a few.
The 16-year-old Rodríguez got his first minutes this past weekend against the Richmond Kickers, starting in a holding central midfielder role in Shore’s 4-3-3 system. For Rodríguez to get the start shows the trust Shore and the technical staff have in the Elkhart, Indiana native, who just turned 16 on May 27.
“We thought Allan did great for his first start,” said Shore. “We try the best we can to build out of our number six. What we thought we were lacking in the first couple of games was what Allan brings to the table -- a calming presence on the ball.”
Rodríguez is responsible for reeling in the two attacking midfielders defensively, and that takes communication. That’s something Shore has been demanding out of all three of the Fire loanees.
“What we told all three of them is -- despite the fact they are 16 or 17 years old -- you aren’t once you step onto the field,” he said. “You’re a veteran. You are on the field because you are supposed to be.”
Barking orders can be difficult for any new player, especially a loanee (let alone one who still can’t legally vote yet). Madison has a stable of veteran players who’ve returned from their 2019 playoff appearance, and Shore has been happy with how the guys have mixed it up with the youngsters.
“It took them a little bit to feel comfortable,” he said. “They are usually put in the middle of the 5-v-2 (drills) at the beginning of training, but that’s just how the pecking order goes. We have some great guys who have been really good about it.”
As for Brady - the third Homegrown of the group - he has yet to go “full mingo” (as they say across the border). However, the coaching staff have been impressed and see his first professional appearance in the not-too-distant future.
“Chris is getting close,” Shore said. “We are more and more impressed with his abilities each day. He is pretty good with his feet, and we are still working through the communication part. We have a tough stretch coming up and we all know with a ‘keeper, if they get one game and it goes well, they’ll keep playing.”
At 16, Brady stands at 6’4’ and -- like his Homegrown mates -- still has some physical development ahead of him.
In addition to emulating guys on the Fire first team at their respective positions, Shore has been encouraging them to keep an eye on players across the league.
“It’s great that so many young players in America watch European football.” Shore said. “They play professionally in the U.S. though, and should know everything about the top tier in their own country. If they can pick up little nuances from players outside of the organization in addition to their own teammates, it will serve them well in the future.”
One player in particular Coach Shore pointed out was Miguel Ibarra of the Seattle Sounders for Monis to study.
“Miguel is a great example for Alex, because he is a good attacking winger who also knows how to defend properly.”
Overall, the young Fire products have been adjusting well to life in Madison. It can be a daunting task to fit into a side you are loaned to, especially at such a young age. However, the confidence displayed by Shore and the rest of the Madison technical staff is only going to fan the flame for the youngsters.
“They all have really bright futures and bright games ahead with us.”