Updated: Men’s Soccer: Chicago Fire sign former Northwestern midfielder Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter looks to pass. Ritter, who played at Northwestern from 2009-2013, signed a contract with the Chicago Fire, the club announced Monday.

Daily file photo by Mackenzie McCluer

Chris Ritter looks to pass. Ritter, who played at Northwestern from 2009-2013, signed a contract with the Chicago Fire, the club announced Monday.

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

The Chicago Fire Soccer Club announced Monday it signed former Northwestern midfielder Chris Ritter.

Ritter is the fourth “homegrown player,” a Chicago-area product that signs with the team, in club history. The Winnetka native and New Trier High School graduate had an illustrious five-year career at NU and will play with the Fire’s First Team, according to a Chicago Fire news conference this morning.

Ritter started 18 games as a true freshman in 2009 and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team for his strong play. After an injury-shorted 2010 season in which he only played two games, Ritter returned in 2011 to post 4 goals and earn Second Team All-Big Ten honors. The midfielder had his best season as a senior in 2012, when he started all 23 games for the Cats and won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Ritter continued his strong play as a fifth-year senior in 2013, posting five goals and five assists to end his career with 15 and 14, respectively.

Coach Tim Lenahan said Ritter could have signed with the Fire last spring, but Ritter emphasized the importance of finishing his education before committing to professional soccer.

“Coming out of high school and playing with the Fire’s academy team, I went to Northwestern for the soccer and the school, but I didn’t go into college thinking I was going to be a professional soccer player — that wasn’t my only goal,” Ritter said at the news conference. “The way things worked out, I had a good college career and the opportunity just presented itself.”

Ritter also said he has been able to train with the Fire’s first team during the past few summers, an experience that gave him a taste of the new level of professionalism and time commitment playing with for the Fire demands.

The midfielder leaves NU having been named to 2013’s All-Big Ten First Team and Second Team All-American in December, and said he hopes to put more NU players on the map in professional soccer with his signing.

“I think the one thing about Northwestern is that they really haven’t turned out the pros that other colleges have, even comparing it to Notre Dame, who … had a number of college players actually make it at the next level in the MLS, and that’s something that Northwestern hasn’t been able to do,” Ritter said at the news conference. “So, I hope to kind of pave the path for guys coming from lesser-known college soccer schools who are equally good players.”

Lenahan said Ritter’s signing is good news for the program from a recruiting standpoint and that he hopes to develop a stronger relationship between NU and the Chicago Fire.

“Not many places have a professional team in their backyard,” Lenahan said. “The fact that the Fire’s a very strong academy program – to be able to say ‘here’s a path to get to the professional ranks and part of that path is Northwestern’ is just great for us. It’s really the result of hard work. He wasn’t really heavily recruited out of high school, but he’s become one of the best players we’ve ever had here at Northwestern. It’s great all around for everyone involved.”

Ava Wallace contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Tim Lenahan. The quote has been updated.

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