Four former University of Wisconsin players have appeared in Major League Soccer matches during the league's 20-year history. Drew Conner is looking to be the fifth, after signing a homegrown contract with the Chicago Fire last month.
The 21-year-old midfielder joins the Fire after four years as a fixture in the center of the park for the Badgers. Conner finished his college career with six goals and 12 assists in 73 appearances (all starts), missing just four games for UW and wearing the captain's armband as a senior last fall.
"We're super excited for Drew," Badgers coach John Trask said in a news release. "To be a member of the Chicago Fire, his hometown team, now it's up to him to go and prove it as a professional player. We think we've prepared him well, and we're just wishing him all the best."
Conner, a native of Cary, Ill., starred for the Fire's Under-16 and Under-18 teams in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and also was a standout for the club's Under-23 team in the Premier Development League from 2012 to '15.
"It felt great to get the call," Conner said. "I remember going to Chicago Fire games as a kid when my dad used to take me. Going through this whole process and coming through their development system has been an honor.
"I remember when I came on my recruiting trip and Coach Trask talked to me, he promised me that he could get me to the next level. Hats off to the coaching staff here at Wisconsin for developing my game. I'm just really happy that this day has finally come. This is the team I grew up supporting, so it's just really cool and truly an honor."
Conner and Northwestern forward Joey Calistri were announced Dec. 17 as the seventh and eighth homegrown players in Fire history, and the first players signed by the team since Serbian coach Veljko Paunovic was hired in November.
“We're very excited to have Drew and Joey with us," said Paunovic, who's coached Serbian youth national teams since closing out his 17-year professional playing career with the Philadelphia Union in MLS in 2011. "I like their personality on the field and their overall character. They have a great desire to learn, improve and give their best. They share the same values and passion as our community and we can't wait to start working together.”
On Twitter: @Drew_Conner1
Wes Hart: Colorado Rapids (2000-03); San Jose Earthquakes (2004-05)
Narciso Fernandes: Kansas City Wizards (2001)
Aaron Hohlbein: Kansas City Wizards (2007-10)
A.J. Cochran: Houston Dynamo (2014-15), currently a free agent