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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Pantazopoulos stunningly makes team

The dream has come true for Paraskevas "Pari" Pantazopoulos.

A 22-year-old midfielder who cheered the Fire as a youth now will be on the field as a full member of the MLS team.

A Hoffman Estates resident, Pantazopoulos beat stiff odds to win an open tryout in January and impressed team brass enough to stick around through several more weeks of training.

He landed a final roster spot just days before the Fire's 2011 season opener Saturday at FC Dallas.

"I found out right before the flight to (return to) Chicago," Pantazopoulos said this week. "We were at the airport and (player personnel director) Mike Jeffries pulled me aside and said 'We're interested in signing you. You worked hard and you're a good young prospect.' "Pantazopoulos had a one-word response.

"Wow," he said.

"I went to the bathroom, looked at myself and thought 'I'm going to be part of the Fire,' " he recalled. "Since I was a little kid I rooted for this team."

A formal signing awaits resolution of final contract details, but a beaming Pantazopoulos joined the team at this week's kickoff luncheon at a Chicago hotel.

Born in Athens, Greece in 1988, Pantazopoulos moved with his family to the Chicago area at age 10.

He played youth soccer in the northwest suburbs, was part of the Chicago Magic club program and earned four varsity letters while scoring 51 career goals at Prospect High School.

A German club offered Pantazopoulos a tryout during his senior year. He passed, then turned pro after his 2007 high school graduation.

He played for a year with Asil Lisis of Cyprus followed by a two-year run with Greek team Zakynthos FC.

Pantazopoulos' trek began in late January when he joined more than 200 hopefuls at Fire open tryout in Bridgeview. After two days of evaluations, he was the lone player to land a one-week tryout.

"I just told myself to stay focused, keep it plain and simple and work hard," he said. "That's what coaches want to see from young guys."

He survived the guaranteed first week, stayed another and then joined the team in Florida for spring training and later tournament play in South Carolina.

"He did very well; he was a pleasant surprise," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. "He has been in different soccer environments, is good with the ball, makes good decisions and works hard.

"He has the ability; now it's up to him."

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