Pantazopoulos makes dream team
By Len Ziehm Special to the Sun-Times March 14, 2011 10:02PM
Updated: June 21, 2011 12:20AM
The preseason is always a time for optimism, and that was certainly the case at the Fire’s 14th annual kickoff luncheon Monday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago Hotel. The feel-good nature of the event, attended by more than 700 fans, had a more personal touch, as well.
Though the Fire wasn’t quite ready to announce it, the season-opening roster will include forward Paraskevas ‘‘Pari’’ Pantazopoulos. His climb from Prospect High School to Major League Soccer is a ‘‘local boy makes good’’ fairy tale.
‘‘It’s a dream come true,’’ Pantazopoulos said. ‘‘I used to be a fan. I went to every home game, cheering for [DaMarcus] Beasley, Logan Pause, [Chris] Armas and [Peter] Nowak.’’
Pantazopoulos, 22, was born in Greece and came to Chicago with his family in 1998, the Fire’s first season.
His pro career started in Cyprus in 2007. Then he did time with Zakynthos, a member of Greece’s third division. Missing his family and friends, he returned to Chicago after two seasons abroad and kept his soccer enthusiasm going with Schwaben, one of Chicago’s oldest amateur clubs.
When the Fire scheduled an open indoor tryout in January, Pantazopoulos was one of 210 players from 19 countries who showed up at the Bridgeview Sports Dome. He was the lone survivor, and that assured him only one week of preseason training with the first team and an array of hopefuls in Florida.
That wasn’t enough for Pantazopoulos, who survived that elimination, too, and stuck with the team through another two weeks of drills in Charleston, S.C. They ended Saturday after a scoreless draw with the minor-league Charleston Battery in the last preseason game.
Before the team boarded the flight home Sunday, Pantazopoulos was given the word that he’d made the team. Paperwork needed to be completed, and that’s why the Fire didn’t introduce him with the 26 rostered players at the kickoff luncheon.
The Fire had 31 in camp in Charleston, and technical director Frank Klopas wanted to keep 28 for Saturday’s regular-season opener at FC Dallas.
Davis Paul, the last unsigned draft pick, was introduced with the rostered players Monday, and Pantazopoulos and forward Gabriel Ferrari presumably will fill out the team.