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Brandt Bronico taking advantage of opportunity in Chicago Fire’s midfield

Jun 13, 2018; Commerce City, CO, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Brandt Bronico (13), defender Kevin Ellis (5) and forward Nemanja Nikolic (23) celebrate after a goal during the first half against the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Injuries and a lack of major offseason acquisitions have forced a number of unproven players to step into bigger roles for the Chicago Fire this season.

Second-year midfielder Brandt Bronico has taken advantage of his opportunity.

After making just four substitute appearances in his rookie season, Bronico has made seven starts, including a recent run of five straight, for the Fire in 2018.

He has four assists and scored his first career MLS goal Saturday in Dallas.

One of the highlights was this back heel pass in Seattle on June 23, which assisted an Aleksandar Katai goal.

Then there’s this first-touch flick two weeks later in Vancouver.

Bronico didn’t get an assist for it, but it did put Kevin Ellis in a dangerous spot in the box before a Nemanja Nikolic goal.

Bronico played just 53 minutes in 2017, but has beaten out league veteran Tony Tchani and top-10 pick Mo Adams for playing time. Now he’s playing next to two of the best midfielders in the league in Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

“I think last year helped me a lot in the fact that I could work hard and develop, and kind of work on my craft,” Bronico said. “Obviously, you always want to play games, but I feel like I developed well last year and learned from guys like Basti and Dax. Then I worked hard in the offseason and translated that into game scenarios.”

Bronico was drafted out of Charlotte in the third round. That gave him the chance to chase a lifelong dream of playing professionally. Getting drafted at all was a huge step toward that, but there was still a long way to go. Most third-round picks don’t make the final roster.

“When I got drafted, it was just all about the opportunity,” Bronico said. “I just needed the opportunity to show my stuff and I figured once I got that I could really prove myself.”

Bronico didn’t get much of an opportunity in 2017, but he showed enough to get his option picked up in the offseason. Now, he’s seeing more of the field and making an impression.

“He’s a good complement to Basti and Dax,” coach Veljko Paunović said. “Tactically, he understands … what we are expecting to play when he plays in that role.”

Paunović called Bronico an all-around player, capable of doing the dirty work and “the nice work.” Bronico has completed over 90 percent of his passes in three of his seven starts.

Bronico isn’t the team’s primary playmaker, although his assist total shows he is doing some of that. His role is to keep it simple and do a little bit of everything.

Bronico said he is playing with more confidence and has improved from a year ago. He also has more of an opportunity to show what he can do.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” he said. “I think I’m a lot better player, and I think the opportunity presented itself and I kind of took advantage of it. Trying to keep taking advantage of these opportunities to play.”

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