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After signing with the Chicago Fire Wednesday, Chris Mueller was busy on his first day at training on Thursday getting to know his new teammates.
Except Mauricio Pineda. There’s no need for an introduction there. Mueller and Mauri go way back.
“I think honestly the first game I ever played against him, we were probably seven, eight years old,” Pineda said of Mueller.
Mueller, 25, grew up in Schaumburg, playing for local powerhouse Sockers FC. Pineda, 24, is from Bolingbrook and played for the Chicago Fire Academy. As kids, the two squared off many, many times.
“The first time we played Sockers, I think they might have beat us 9 or 10 to 0. Something bad like that,” Pineda recalled. “And I think he probably had like four or five goals.”
Mueller remembers it well. It’s clear while the two are friends–they even train together during off-seasons–they still maintain a healthy rivalry.
“I’m pretty sure that happened on a few occasions against Mauricio’s team, I’m not gonna lie!” Mueller told CHGO with a huge smile. “We grew up playing against each other and I’ve known him for so long, so it’s cool to come back and see guys like that.
“I played against him for eight years, and I don’t think I ever lost to his team! Oh, he knows. He’ll tell you the same thing!”
From Schaumburg to Chicago (via Scotland, of course)
Mueller’s path took him from Sockers FC to the University of Wisconsin to Orlando City, where he scored 22 goals and notched 20 assists in 126 career appearances. Over the winter, he secured a move to Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership, which ended not long after it started, with Mueller scoring just one goal during his few months there. Despite the struggle, Mueller looks back on his time in Scotland fondly. He grew to love Edinburgh, and said he wouldn’t have changed anything about the move because it eventually got him back home. “That’s football,” he said.
The transfer from Hibs to the Fire came together quickly, and Mueller said as it inched closer, he had to keep things quiet with his family so they wouldn’t get their hopes up if it fell apart. But, he said the decision to come home was easy.
“I didn’t need much of a pitch to be fair,” Mueller told CHGO. “With my family here, and how much I know about the organization, and everything about Chicago, it’s my pride, and I don’t take putting on the badge lightly, just being a kid who can really feel what the fans feel.”
Although Mueller is moving to the Fire on a free transfer, in true MLS fashion Chicago is giving up a fair amount to Orlando City to acquire his league rights– $500,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) – $250,000 in 2022 GAM and $250,000 in 2023 GAM. Plus, Orlando City will receive the Fire’s natural first round selection in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft and the MLS discovery rights to an unnamed player. Orlando will also retain a percentage of any future transfer fee for Mueller, and could receive an additional $150,000 in GAM if he achieves certain performance-based metrics with the Fire.
The Fire feel he’s more than worth that price tag, though. On a team that’s been desperate for a strong, speedy winger, Mueller should step in and help right away.
“He’s someone that we’ve had on the radar, and we’re just very, very excited to be able to have him,” Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson said.
Mueller is in, but Jairo’s hurt
While Mueller looks likely to play at least some minutes Saturday against Atlanta United, fellow new addition Jairo Torres may not. Torres missed training Thursday with what Hendrickson called a “muscle injury,” which Torres apparently picked up in his final game for Atlas FC in Liga MX last Saturday. He was fine in training on Tuesday, but the injury began to bother him on Wednesday, and the Fire decided to be cautious.
“We’d rather he maybe miss one game than miss eight,” Hendrickson said. “We want to get that thing sorted out before we put him out there.”
After missing last week’s match, striker Kacper Przybylko was also absent from training today. Hendrickson said Przybylko is improving and will return to training next week.
Good news, though: Fabian Herbers was back in training and looked strong, meaning his hip injury is coming along.
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