Djordje_mihailovic_-_asn_top_-_rafael_alvarez_-_chicago_fire_soccer_club Rafael Alvarez/Chicago Fire Soccer Club
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Olympic hopeful Mihailovic eyes a bright future after ACL recovery

Djordje Mihailovic, 19, raised eyebrows with his play last year for Chicago. But an ACL injury in the playoffs forced him to step away from the game temporarily. Now healthy, the Florida native is aiming to continue the strong start to his career
BY Isaac Heath Posted
August 29, 2018
6:30 AM
The longer you live life the more you understand that you will experience suffering and setbacks. It is no different in sport, as careers can rise and fall at an instant for a variety of reasons. Albert Einstein famously said that adversity introduces a man to himself.

After a surprise debut season last year, adversity hit Djordje Mihailovic of the Chicago Fire when he tore his ACL during the Fire’s 4-0 playoff loss to the New York Red Bulls.

After 10 months of rehab the 19-year-old finally returned to the lineup this past week where he will look to help spark a team that has been flailing lately. The Fire and Mihailovic hope that he will be able to come back stronger than before his devastating injury.

“This injury helped me step back and see a different perspective on this game and how to play," Mihailovic told ASN. "I am much stronger and faster than I was before my injury, but mentally, this injury really shaped and developed my understanding of the game in a way that I didn’t before I got hurt."

The injury was his first major injury of his playing career and he leaned on veterans such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty for advice. In addition to the leadership in the locker room, the local product also had the luxury of having family around to walk through his recovery process.

“Everyone in my family was really supportive through these past 10 months. My friends helped take my mind away from my injury as well and it was really helpful to be in my hometown,” said Mihailovic.

Going into the 2017 season all the buzz was rightly around the signings of Schweinsteiger and McCarty. Of all the places on the field, midfield seemed to be one of the least likely for younger players to find opportunities.

Yet Mihailovic came out of nowhere to become a regular contributor for a team that made the playoffs for the first time in 5 seasons. He earned 7 appearances from the bench the first half of the season before having a big break at All-Star weekend when he captained and scored in the Homegrown Game against Chivas U-20 team.

From there he began starting in several games and became an integral part to the team’s success. This meteoric rise took everyone including Mihailovic by surprise.

“What happened at the end of the season was nothing that I expected at the beginning," Mihailovic recalled. "The coaches told me this was a big year to grow and learn the ways of the professional lifestyle. Midway through the year I started getting minutes and then found myself in a key role in the midfield and with the team."

While much of his success certainly has to do with his natural abilities, one thing that has set Mihailovic apart in his young career is his willingness to learn and be coached. Whether it be from veterans on the team or the coaching staff, the youngster has been eager to soak it all in.

“Schweini was awesome and I think he was the one who helped me the most with understanding how to make my life easier both on and off the field,” said Mihailovic. “Veterans like him, Dax and Michael de Leeuw always pushed me to be the best version I can be on the field because at the end of the day my job is to perform well on the field.”

The Fire certainly need the best version Mihailovic can be if they hope to erase the 9 points between them and a playoff spot. He started and played about 60 minutes in his first two games back and was able to help the Fire draw with Columbus ending an 8-game losing streak. Now, after a friendly with Bayern Munich yesterday the team will have a few weeks to re-focus ahead of their final season stretch that kicks off on September 16th against Orlando City.

Though the playoff chances seem dim, Mihailovic and the Fire are still optimistic and have that goal as a singular focus.

“The key for us is to have faith and to stay motivated and believe that our season is not over. I Felt amazing in my first game back. The medical staff with the Fire and my doctor did a phenomenal job and I look forward to giving my all for this team and this city,” he said.

On a personal level, Mihailovic certainly seemed to be on track for exposure at the youth national team level prior to injury. With all the changes for the senior team and Olympic qualifying next October, the midfielder could have a shot to get back in the mix if he can pick up where he left off. He certainly has time to get back, but for Mihailovic national team involvement is a goal but not his current priority.

“I talked with Tab (Ramos) at the beginning of the year and he said I am in the loop so I just have to work hard and earn my call up," Mihailovic said. "I have goals of getting called in with the national team and stuff like that, but that is far along. Right now I am just focused on getting this team back to where it should be.”

That attitude should serve him well on his journey, because if Mihailovic can bounce back and help his team en route, the national team involvement should take care of itself.

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