Chicago Fire Sign Mercurial Mexican Nery Castillo
The 26-year-old represents Chicago's second foray into Mexico, but Castillo is a far cry from Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who lent his scowl and skill to the Fire for three seasons. On the other hand, he's a talented foreigner under 30. Rather than viewing MLS as a place to wind down, Castillo will come to Chicago hoping to re-establish himself as a player of consequence.
Castillo was born in Mexico to a Uruguayan father who was playing professionally for San Luis. He moved to Uruguay as a child and began his career with Danubio of Montevideo, where he began attracting European interest. A trial with Manchester United failed to result in a contract, but Castillo was able to secure a deal from Greek power Olympiakos when he was 16.
He remained at the club for seven years, during which which he became eligible to play for Greece. However Castillo was lured to the Mexican team by former coach Hugo Sanchez, and despite the fact that he never played there, he made his debut with El Tricolor in 2007. That same year he transferred to Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk for €20 million, beginning a series of professional missteps that would see him fall out of favor with the national side and put his career in limbo.
Castillo already was known as a bit of a hothead (like Blanco), but took that reputation one step further early in his stay at Shakhtar. He failed to score in his first seven games at the club and in the eighth after the team was awarded a penalty kick, Castillo snatched the ball from the club's usual penalty taker and took the shot himself. It was saved, Castillo was substituted immediately and never played for the team again.
He was loaned to Manchester City in December 2007, got injured soon thereafter and returned to Shakhtar one year later. He then was loaned out again, this time to Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. Not much has been heard from him since.
Castillo made his reputation, at least on the positive side, largely off his performance at the 2007 Copa America. He scored an astonishing four goals as Mexico finished third, including this incredible effort against Brazil in the first round (below). The past three years have been underwhelming, to say the least.
Chicago is betting that he can turn it around there. If it works out, and Castillo is welcomed back into the Tricolor fold, it could be a huge boon for a league hoping to attract some younger foreign talent.