Southridge's Chad Barrett now plies his trade with the MLS' Chicago Fire
CHICAGO - In high school, Southridge soccer star Chad Barrett was absolutely unstoppable.
In college at UCLA, Barrett was again unstoppable.
Now, in his second season as a forward with Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire, Barrett has yet to attain that same 'unstoppable' level, but it seems like he's well on his way.
He leads the Fire in scoring despite having missed nearly four weeks of the season with an injury and is feeling more at home on the field, in the MLS and in Chicago all the time.
'Everything is a lot easier now,' said Barrett, 21. 'I've got a base group of friends now. I've learned my way around the city. I've got a car this year. It's really important to have my life situated.'
With his life situated to start his sophomore campaign with the Fire, Barrett opened the 2006 season on an absolute roll. As a starting forward for Chicago, he scored a goal in the Fire's season opener, added an assist in game four and scored again in game five.
'I've got my confidence behind me this year and now I'm scoring goals,' he said. 'Last year, it wasn't like that and I only scored one goal the whole year.'
But Barrett's ascension into the MLS stratosphere took a momentary detour when he strained a ligament in his groin in Chicago's 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls on May 13. He missed most of the next four weeks, finally getting back onto the field with a bang against Real Salt Lake at Chicago's Toyota Park on June 29.
Barrett didn't hit the pitch until the 68th minute against Real Salt Lake, but once he got in the action, he made his presence felt almost immediately. Real led 1-0 until lightning forced both teams into their locker rooms, and when both squads re-took the field, it was Barrett that struck like lightning.
According to a story by MLS.net, Barrett's return to the lineup went this way:
'With 10 minutes remaining, (Chicago's Nate) Jaqua controlled a long ball and sent Ivan Guerrero streaking down the left touchline. Guerrero then laid the ball off to Justin Mapp, who curled in a perfect cross to Barrett, completely unmarked at the top of the goal area, and he headed down the equalizer past (Real keeper Scott) Garlick.
Five minutes later, Barrett would strike again. After (Zach) Thornton snatched a cross out of the air, he threw the ball to Mapp near the halfway line. Mapp turned and then slipped a perfect through ball to Barrett, who raced in behind the RSL back line. He went in alone on goal, and despite having Real defenders quickly closing from behind, he poked the ball past Garlick and off the inside of the right-hand post for the winner.
Barrett wasn't quite done yet. Once again put into the area from a Jaqua pass he fired a hard, low shot with his right foot that went just wide of the far post. But the substitute had already done his part to claim the three points for the Fire and remain unbeaten in their new home.'
While still suffering from his ligament strain, Barrett said he didn't notice it against Salt Lake.
'Whenever I'm out there, whether it's a game or practice, I get so much adrenaline pumping through me I don't even feel it,' he said.
Though his injury has slowed Barrett slightly in his second year of pro soccer, Barrett is still thrilled with the progress he's made since his MLS debut back in 2005 after being drafted third overall by the Fire. A big part of his progression, Barrett said, comes from being able to focus much more closely on his job with the Fire, while in 2005, he spent a big portion of the year playing with the U20 U.S. National team.
'It was hard last year because I wasn't really playing with the Fire that much,' Barrett said. 'I was with the U20s and then when I came back, I had such an important role.
'It was the complete opposite of the U20 team where I'd earned my starting forward spot and was getting ready for the World Championships.'
After playing as a starter throughout his high school and college careers, Barrett also found himself playing a reserve role with the Fire for perhaps the first time in his life. It was not a role he enjoyed.
'Last year, I felt like a typical rookie,' he said. 'But I don't want to be that anymore. I want to be a starter. I want to be a guy my team looks to for a goal.'
Now, Barrett is busy working his way back into shape, working his way back toward a spot in the Fire's starting lineup and back among the league's top forwards.
'That's what was frustrating when I got hurt - I felt like I was really into it,' Barrett said. 'But then you can't help but lose something when you're out for four weeks.'
And as goes Barrett, so it seems goes the Fire. After starting the season at 1-1-4 with seven points in its first six games, Chicago went 1-4-1 and scored just four points in its next six with Barrett on the shelf. Since his return to the Fire lineup, Chicago has won three straight games, improved to 5-5-5 and climbed into a third-place tie in the MLS' Eastern Division.
Coming off those three straight wins, Barrett is absolutely optimistic about the Fire's future - probably as optimistic as the Fire is about his.