BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — In early August 2017, Djordje Mihailović had not yet made a Major League Soccer start. That month, he played and scored in the MLS Homegrown Game, hosted by the Chicago Fire.
With MLS media congregating in Chicago for the All-Star Game and Mihailović scoring as the hometown player, there were plenty of reporters looking to talk to him after the game. The then 18-year-old was a bit camera shy and said “Oh brother” when he saw what had to be the biggest media scrum of his life gathering.
Much has changed since then for Mihailovic. The now 20-year-old midfielder has emerged as a key up-and-coming player for the Fire. He scored for the U.S. national team in his debut against Panama in a friendly Jan. 27. He became the first to score for the U.S. national team as a Fire player since DaMarcus Beasley on June 20, 2004.
Mihailović’s national team debut was also the first game in charge for coach Gregg Berhalter.
“It was a great experience,” Mihailović said of playing with the national team. “A lot of things that I learned from Gregg and his staff and the other players like Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp. I think it was a great learning opportunity for me as well as an opportunity to showcase what I’m capable of on the field. I think I did a great job of doing that. Of course I have to keep working and improve myself to get called in.”
Mihailović’s evolution from teenage prospect just trying to get MLS minutes to national team goal scorer includes him overcoming a torn ACL. Mihailovic suffered the injury in the Fire’s playoff defeat in 2017. He returned Aug. 18 the following season. Mihailovic played the final nine games of the season, starting eight.
After the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup, Mihailović saw a lot of young players getting national team opportunities. He thought his opportunity would come as well because of that. He said he tries to “keep his ego low,” but admitted it gave him a confidence boost.
“Coming back from injury, being out for 10 months and scoring in my first game with the national team,” Mihailović said. “It just builds confidence and I hope to bring that confidence with the Fire.”
Coming off his national team call-up, Mihailović could play a key role in the Fire’s midfield. Fire coach Veljko Paunović said that will come this season. He also expects a more confident Mihailovic.
“Every player that goes with the national team, when he comes back he’s 20 percent immediately better because he feeds himself with that confidence from teammates that are also confident and on the international level,” Paunović said. “I know as a former player how much that means.”
After leaving national team camp, Mihailović joined the Fire in the middle of the preseason. He scored a goal in his first game back.
Paunović was quick to note that he’s still the “same old Djordje” that the Fire are very familiar with dating back to his time in the Fire academy.
“Don’t forget that we were working with him for three years,” Paunović said. “They didn’t take him for two weeks and make the player, which is important.”
While he won’t have to pace the entire Fire attack, Mihailović does want to be more of a leader in his third year with the team.
“I’m not trying to change anything that got me to the national team,” Mihailović said. “I think if I start changing things then I might not find rhythm. I think I have to take a lot of things into my own hands, scoring, assisting more than I did in the past.”