Naperville native Chris Brady steps into the spotlight
When you become a professional anything at just 16-years old, you probably have a special knack or talent that’s given you that head start. That’s certainly true for 19-year-old Naperville native Chris Brady, who three years after leaving Naperville North High School after only three semesters and signing a professional soccer contract with Chicago Fire FC is poised to be the team’s starting goalkeeper for the 2023 Major League Soccer Season.
“I started out as a defender playing club soccer,” said Brady, who began his youth soccer career with Lisle FC Dragons and then Roadrunners Soccer Club in Downers Grove. “And then it kind of kind of found its way into me moving back there, playing goalie one game, two games, and then I picked it up and I was like, You know what? This is something that I really enjoy. I didn’t necessarily understand the knack that I had for playing the goalkeeper position until I got to the Fire and it was like, okay, maybe there’s something here.”
“He has the prototypical goalkeeper frame: tall, long lean,” said Fire goalkeeper coach Zach Thornton of Brady. “His athleticism completely shocked me how athletic he was. His technique is good because he’s been training at a high level for a long time. Like I said, he’s got all the tools, all of them. He’s a confident kid. He’s got all the support in the world, so I’m very confident he’ll do well.”
Laying the groundwork for 2023
While 2023 may be Brady’s first time as the regular starter for the Fire, he’s had plenty of experience to prepare for this moment. In 2020, he won the USL League 1 Young Player of the Year award while on loan at minor league club Forward Madison, and last year started 12 times for the Fire’s reserve team including keeping five shutouts. Those experiences have helped him developed into a more mature player and person.
“It really opened my mind and I would say just developed me as an adult because that’s something that like that’s not easy to do at any point in your life, but especially not at 16 years old,” Brady said of his experience in Madison, which was also amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I started that obstacle to tackle where it’s like new team, new city, new club. So like, how am I going to integrate into the team? How am I going to break in and hopefully gain the respect of my teammates and the coaching staff there? So that was probably one of the biggest things that I took from that. But yeah, I would say that played a crucial role in developing me as a goalkeeper. My mindset and all that, my habits for, you know, when I came back to Chicago.”
“You have to have confidence and you gain confidence from playing in games and being successful in games that you’ve played,” said Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson. “I think Chris has been very successful in the academy. He’s been very successful with the MLS Next Pro team (the Fire’s reserve team). And you know, when he played for us last year, he was very successful. So I think he’s going to come in very confident. He knows his abilities, he knows that we are very confident in him, so that helps him. But I think, you know, just a matter of, you know, getting out there and just seizing the moment.”
The Chicago Fire: no strangers to a teenage goalkeeper
No matter Brady’s confidence nor preparation, this season will ultimately carry with it plenty of pressure now that he’s in the spotlight. While this is new for Brady, it isn’t for the Fire who previously had 18-year-old Gabriel Slonina as the team’s starting keeper the last two years. As a result, the team’s coaching staff are well versed in how to handle the ups and downs of the world Brady is stepping into.
“One word: patience,” Hendrickson said of the approach he and his staff have to take with a young goalie. “I think, you know, young players are going to have their ups and downs. They’re going to make mistakes. But if you’re in the pipes and you’re a goalkeeper, every mistake that you make is seen, is known. And especially if you’re a young goalkeeper, you have to now find a way to get over that. You know, forget about the last play. And I think that’s something that it’s more challenging for four young goalkeepers rather than a regular field player.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous,” said Brady. “I put a lot of faith in my training and the things that I do on a day to day basis, and I would say I’m fairly confident and how I’ve performed throughout this pre-season and what I’ve done in the past two years now with the with the Fire second team and especially with Forward Madison. So I’m not nervous, isn’t in my vocabulary.”
Chris Brady gets a lift from a club legend
Brady is buoyed this year by the return of Thornton as the team’s goalkeeping coach, a club legend who played 215 times for the club between 1998 and 2006. If there’s anyone who knows about success as a Chicago Fire goalkeeper it’s him, and he’s already been extremely impressed by Brady in their short time working together.
“You know, right when I accepted the position, he reached out and then we spoke a little bit and I was really impressed with his professionalism,” Thornton said of Brady. “And then on the field, I mean, the sky’s the limit for him. I mean, he can do anything he wants to do. The sky’s the limit.”
“He holds us to a higher standard than we would have expected and he makes sure that every training session that we do and our part of he’s getting the best out of us,” Brady said. “So he’s pushing us to work as hard as we can and stay dialed in and focus as best we can to really just get the best out of us as goalkeepers.”
Making a name for both club and country
One way or another, it’s likely to be a big year for Chris Brady. In addition to his objectives with the Fire, Brady hopes to make his mark for country as well after helping the United States qualify for both the Under-20 Men’s World Cup (which takes place in Indonesia in May) and the 2024 Olympic Men’s Soccer Tournament. He’s a very young man with no shortage of talent, dreams and opportunity.
“I think the hope to play in both of those is definitely still there,” Brady said of the two tournaments. “Short term, I hope to establish myself as a starter within the first team and show that I am someone who can contribute to an MLS team and, you know, do well in an MLS environment. And then team wise making the playoffs. That’s our biggest thing right now is how are we going to get through all the in-season games to make it to the playoffs?”
“I think he’s just a very mature guy, you know” said Hendrickson. “One of the profiles of our goalkeepers is one of command on and off the field, you know, of situations. And I think that’s something that he’s very good at and he’s very humble. He works very hard. You see him in the gym. You know, he’s he’s he’s a very mature 19-year-old. And so a lot you know, a lot is expected of him. And I think he’s he’s ready for the task.”
A Naperville native ready to make his mark for Chicago, his country, and maybe someday around the world. Remember the name Chris Brady.