Chicago Fire: An interview with Gonzalo Segares

KANSAS CITY, KS - SEPTEMBER 28: Gonzalo Segares #13 of the Chicago Fire works the ball against the Sporting Kansas City in the first half at Livestrong Sporting Park on September 28, 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, KS - SEPTEMBER 28: Gonzalo Segares #13 of the Chicago Fire works the ball against the Sporting Kansas City in the first half at Livestrong Sporting Park on September 28, 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

We spoke with Chicago Fire legend Gonzalo Segares about youth development and what it means to be a part of the Chicago Fire.

One of the best things about being a long-time member of the Chicago Fire community is the amazing interconnected alumni network that the club has. Recently, I have had the chance to talk to many Chicago Fire legends and will hopefully have some articles with them soon. This time around, I spoke to the club’s all-time leader in yellow cards and third in regular season appearances, Gonzalo Segares.

Gonzalo Segares was born in Costa Rica and started with soccer in the Saprissa academy. He was offered a chance to play soccer in America when he received a scholarship to go to VCU. Segares was drafted by the Chicago Fire in the third round of the 2005 Draft and quickly gained a reputation as one of the hardest-working players on the team. In 2010, Segares spent a season in Cyprus, but came back to Chicago later that year. After his retirement in 2015, he joined the Chicago Fire academy as a coach. He would work with the club until 2016 when he left to join FC United, an independent soccer academy in Chicago.

Segares’ legacy within the Chicago Fire is one of duty and loyalty. From all that I’d heard of his time at the Fire Academy, his goal was to instil into the players what it means to play for the Fire. His connection with the supporters extended far beyond what is normally seen throughout the rest of the league, showing up at Section 8 tailgates after his retirement and maintaining friendships with many involved with the supporters’ group. This year, he spoke at the Illinois Supporters Association AGM about what it means to be a part of the Chicago Fire family.

Here is a transcript of my interview with him:

What’s the transition from being a player to coach like?

“It went smoothly for me. I think that…playing professionally it was always in the back of my head, what I was gonna do after, right? So you’re always thinking, always thinking. I knew I wanted to stay in the sport in a different kind of way and the decision presented itself. I don’t know if I was ready to make the change or if that’s why it went so smoothly, but I was very fortunate to follow in the Fire Academy, follow in the steps of Larry Sunderland. That year we were very successful, we won the national championship with the U-18s. I think the fact of being on the field, day in and day out, the traveling, the group of coaches that we had and the staff that we had… It felt like a locker room, it felt like I was still in the locker room with a good group of guys I enjoy every day. Whether I’m getting on practices or with the travel and away games. So, I think I made everything smooth and made me enjoy it a lot.”

After coaching in an academy connected to a pro team and now coaching for a more independent-style academy, what’s your ideal academy for the City of Chicago?

“I think that it depends. I think that Chicago is so big that there’s so many quality players and I think that you can have a market for everyone. I think that obviously you’ve got the Fire market and trying to develop a player to make it to the first team, and I think you’ve got the quality of players to be able to do that. But I also think that it can also bring a certain amount of players. You still have a lot of good players around in the city that at certain different ages may not be ready to become professional or the path might be different towards college. So I think that there’s plenty for each. I think for us and my club, FC United, where I work at, if you look this past year we were able to put 15 out of the 16 seniors in colleges and I think that’s one of our main goals. And just because they’re going to college doesn’t mean that maybe eventually they could be able to make it professional. The way I look at it, it’s the same path that I took. You can go to the professional route right away, through the academy system with the MLS teams or you can go the college route. So I think that everyone has a kind of different path. That’s why I believe that you just never know, right? And when it’s your time to make it, it’s your time to make it, and at the end of the day, your path will take you there. So, I believe that- Again, you can have both kinds of systems and you can be competitors, but at the same time I think that that’s how I push it. Try to be better.”

You mentioned a bit about the path through college. There’s been some recent stuff, at the very least this year with Jim Curtin trading away all of his draft picks in the draft, with more of a focus on the academy. What do you think college soccer’s place in the future of US Soccer is?

“I think that there’s still gonna be a future for college soccer. I think the players that will be ready to make an impact at a very young age will jump right away to the professional level and I think a lot of MLS teams are doing that and I’ve seen that. So that’s why they’re investing in USL teams… A full pathway that way so they can have these players ready at a younger age. I think that like what you said, Philadelphia are a perfect example. Obviously, I think that that’s gonna affect the level of college soccer; but at the same time, you’re gonna be able to get players that are gonna go to college and eventually will be able to make it at the professional level as well. I think not only players here from the states, but international players. If you see guys like Julian Gressel that came from Germany to play at college and now he’s doing really well… Guys like that you’re gonna be able to still see. But I do think that the level of college will drop a little bit, of course, because the main players and the better quality players here in the states are gonna travel and follow the path of the professional level.”

Moving a bit more towards Chicago Fire stuff, you ended your career with the Fire, you were coaching in the Fire Academy and now you’re coaching a different academy still in Chicago. Why do you stay in Chicago?

“I love the city. I actually had opportunities to go to other cities and different job offers, but I don’t know. I’ve been here for so long. I know this city. I consider it my home, obviously at the same time with Costa Rica. You come in December or March, I’ll say I would like to leave. It’s such a great city and I find it difficult to leave. For me it has to be a very good opportunity to try to be offered that again or whatever it is to move out of here has to be something very good that I cannot think of. Because for me I really enjoy… I’ve met. Some very good friends that I enjoy my time off with them. So it’s home, right?”

When I talk to others about your place in the lore of the Chicago Fire, you’re always brought up as this sort of soccer version of the hockey enforcer: Someone who’s willing to sacrifice themselves and take a booking or two to help out the team. What are your thoughts on that description?

“Yeah, I guess those come with injuries and I have them. On my wrists and ankles and everything. I think that, and I tell a lot of my players this, I wasn’t a very technical player. I wasn’t ever a player that would be able to go and dribble two or three guys and score an incredible goal, right? I knew what my strengths were and one of them was just my work rate, my physicality, and my competitive nature. I think that I always felt that. And if you talk to a lot of my friends, I’m very mild and very quiet and very easygoing outside of the field, but for some reason and I don’t know why… Now that I coach I’m always trying to figure out how can you teach a kid to do that. And it’s kinda like a switch. Every time I step on the field there was like a switch going and just that aggressiveness, that competitive nature just came out of me. So I knew that if I wanted to make it in the league on a professional level, I had to be one of the best in that. I work harder than everybody else, be more physical than everybody else and try to match players that were better than me in the physical aspect by working harder than them on the other side. That’s the only way that I knew how to be able to be successful.”

You were at the AGM for Section 8 earlier this year and you said something about Tradition, Honor, and Passion and “You need to live it in order to truly understand it.” Is there anything else you’d like to add to that later on?

“Yeah, I think that for me I just feel that a lot of people just throw it out there without even sweating in the jersey, either in the field or on the stands. To really go through the ups and the downs is what is really to form a club and to play for a club and to be a true follower of an organization. So I always show that you gotta go through the good times and the bad times and the difficult times. If you go through them you really know what it is to love an organization and a club. And I see it, not here, but I see it at home with Saprissa when they go through the rough moments and the good moments, see it with national teams all the time. So I just felt it was good to remind the fans of that. That even in difficult moments or good moments, I think that the true fans are the ones that know how to embrace that and how to beat it.”

What is the importance of the connection between the fans and the club? You saw it as a player, you saw it as a coach, now you’re seeing it even as a fan yourself now.

“For me it’s everything. You play for them. You play for the fans. You play for the organization, but you play for the fans, right? …You wanna feed off that energy. Like you said, I have had experience on the field as a player and I have experience with that as a coach with the academy. We invited Section 8 to come and they were there for some of our academy games. We wanted the kids to see that. We wanted the kids to feel that. And that’s what it’s about at the end of the day. I think that celebrating with everybody. It’s not the same when you’re winning a championship and the stadium is completely empty and you don’t have anybody to celebrate with. It’s more than that. It’s about the relations that you create over the years. It’s about all that. Being able to celebrate with your supporters who have been behind you for many many years. We were able to celebrate in 2006, when we won the Open Cup and it was one of the greatest experiences. Because you work so hard for something for that year, or even more years, and being able to be successful and to finally lift the trophy together. That’s what it’s about.”

What does the Chicago Fire badge mean to you? You played for the club almost your entire career, you left for a bit and came back, and then you came back again after you retired. What does the club mean to you?

“The club definitely means where there are memories. It means almost my entire career. Where I was given the opportunity I was for the first time to follow my dream. I think that especially growing up in a country where since you’re a little kid you’re following soccer and your dream is to be a professional player. The Fire for me gave me that opportunity. So you’re always gonna have that special for the badge and for the jersey because they were the ones who gave you that chance to become a professional. So I’ll always love the club and that’s why I always try to give everything for it. Because at the same time you’re not just doing it for yourself. You want the club to be successful, you want the fans to celebrate, and at the end of the day that’s the goal.”

Have you considered coaching in the pros or are you going to stay more towards the academy side? Have you gotten offers to be in the pros?

“I have considered the pros, but I’m not really in a rush. I was actually… I don’t know if it was an offer or not, but I was in talks with Dave Sarachan to maybe have an opportunity with him over there in North Carolina. They went different ways with somebody else, but that was kind of the first real opportunity to go at that level. Definitely, something that would’ve been interesting for me. But at the same time, I’m really not sure if I wanna go to the next level yet. I really don’t know if I’m ready. I think for me, I’m someone… I want to make sure that I’m prepared. I believe that if sometimes you get an opportunity, you want to be able to do it right. You wanna be able to take that opportunity and hold onto it. You don’t want it to be rushed in the sense that you get that chance, but then you’re not ready for it. You might never get it again. So, right now, again, I’m not really in a rush. I really wanna keep learning day in and day out at the academy level. I definitely will consider something if it comes up, but it hasn’t. But you never know, I think that the difference with playing and coaching is you get a little more time. Playing is a little short, but coaching you can take your time and you never know when that will happen. I definitely wouldn’t close the door on it, but at the same time, I’m not really trying to chase it yet. I do wanna keep learning, keep getting better and hopefully when I’m ready at some point, it would be a time where I get an opportunity.”

Any last thoughts?

“I know there’s a lot of things going on with the organization and the fan-base that we all hope for the best. To see the club where it deserves to be. We’re all in the same boat. We all want the club to be successful.”

Next. Chicago Fire Vs Philadelphia Union: 3 things we learned. dark

My thanks to Gonzalo Segares for taking the time out to speak with me.