Four years ago Collins John's future looked limitless.
He was a 20-year-old goal-scoring sensation for Fulham, notching double-digit goals for the Cottagers in a 2005/2006 season that couldn't have gone much better. Instead of being the kickoff of a blossoming career, that dream season wound up being the premature peak for a young talent who has spent the past four years trying to recapture that magic he spun at Craven Cottage.
Four years and four teams later, John finds himself in the United States, trying to revive his once-promising career by securing a contract with the Chicago Fire. The Dutch striker is traveling with the Fire to Arizona for a trial, where he is hoping to find a good fit with the club after recent stints in England, the Netherlands and Belgium.
"Football is up and down sometimes," John said in an interview with SBI. "Two years ago I was up and the last two years I've been down so I'm trying to pick it up again and hopefully it will be this year.
"You can't really say 'from now for the next five years I'm going to be playing well or scoring goals'," John said. "The first three years at Fulham I was playing every game. I played in the biggest league in the world, I was scoring goals and was having fun, and for a few reasons it went another way.
"Hopefully this year I can turn it around again. That's what I'm trying to do."
So how did John's trial with Chicago come about? His agent is a former teammate of Fire technical director Frank Klopas so when Klopas was told that John was available and looking for a fresh start, Klopas wasted no time in flying out to meet John to see if it was a move worth pursuing. The meeting has resulted in a trial that is as much for John to see how comfortable he feels with the Fire as it is about John proving himself.
"It says a lot that he's come out here because he's also risking a lot too," Klopas said. "The transfer window is closed in Europe now and he decided to come here and give it a try and with his ability it could wind up being a great move for everybody."
John is no stranger to the United States, having visited on several occasions through the years. A teammate of Brian McBride's at Fulham, John also spoke to former Fulham teammate and friend Carlos Bocanegra about Chicago and the possibility of playing in MLS.
"(Bocanegra) just told me that it was a good club with good fans and it could be a city I would enjoy," John said. "He told me I might like it and I might now like it, so that's why I'm here, to find out.
"I know a little about MLS. There have been some Dutch players to play in the league, like Dave Van Den Bergh, and as a football fan I know a little about it. I've played with Bocanegra, Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey.
"Something in me just told me to try out America," John said. "I'm just happy to be here, I'm enjoying the time and I'm glad to know a few guys and a lot of guys have made me feel welcome."
The Fire will keep the welcome mat out for John if he can emerge as a reliable scoring threat to partner alongside McBride. With Chris Rolfe having bolted to Denmark, Chicago will need to replace his goal scoring and John has the combination of size, speed and ball skills to be one of the best forwards in MLS.
It is also easy to forget that John is still just 24. Having started his career at a young age (he made his debut for the Dutch national team at 18) John enjoyed plenty of success early on. Whether he has learned from the struggles of recent years will soon be found out by a Fire team looking to rebuild an attack that has lost both Rolfe and playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
"He hasn't forgotten how to play," Klopas said of John. "When you think about how young he is and how much talent he has, he might just need a change of scenery and if he can get back to being the player he can be, it's going to be fun to watch."
What do you think of John joining the Fire? Can you see him reviving his career in MLS? Looking forward to a McBride-John forward line? Think John will struggle in MLS, assuming he signs?
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