BY ANTHONY ZILIS
Over two years have passed since Fire technical director Frank Klopas and managing director Javier Leon met Nery Castillo for coffee while on a scouting trip in England.
At that point, Castilo was on loan to Manchester City and in stellar form after leading Mexico to a third-place finish in the 2007 Copa America.
"We were actually thinking that one day, potentially, this guy could be a great addition to the Chicago Fire organization," Klopas said.
The Fire finally got their man, introducing Castillo as their newest designated player on Thursday.
"This time, when the opportunity arose and they showed interest in me I didn't think twice about it," Castillo said.
But whether Castillo can regain the form that had him pegged as a future star for El Tricolor remains to be seen.
Since his breakout summer in 2007, the 26-year-old striker has scored one goal for Mexico and one for his club teams, which include Ukranian clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk as well as City.
His struggles culminated in well-publicized blow-ups at the Mexican media, where he complained that the press was over-critical. He wrapped up a March 2009 news conference by telling reporters, "The difference between me and you? That I’m in Europe and you’re here in Mexico. And you'll always be in Mexico."
Castillo, though, declined to delve into his confrontations with the Mexican media Thursday, though he did tell the Chicago Tribune's Luis Arroyave that the criticisms had something to do with his unwillingness to play for a Mexican club.
Instead, he spoke about the future.
After a few failed loan stints and injuries, Castillo already feels comfortable with the Fire. Head coach Carlos de los Cobos played for Castillo's father, who recently passed away.
"I knew the team had a good coach. I knew, by talking to my dad, that there would be great support," Castillo said.
As for questions about his character, Klopas has none.
"It's important that we get not only a good player but a good person," Klopas said. "I feel that this young man here is a good person, who is going to give a lot of quality to this team.
The speedy Castillo, who prefers to play as a withdrawn forward, hopes to revive his once-bright career in the footsteps of one of the most celebrated Mexican players of all time, Cuautemoc Blanco, who played two-and-a-half seasons with the Fire before returning to Mexico in the offseason.
"I spoke to Cuauhtemoc who said great things about the club," he said. "I know he was a very important player in this club, a very important player in Mexico, and a very important player for the Mexican national team. I hope to do as much as he did if not more to bring titles here to Chicago."
If Castillo can reach his potential and breath life into the Fire, who are out of the playoff picture and rank ninth in the league in attendance, as Blanco did, his signing will be considered a success.
Considering his career-arc, though, that's a big "if."