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Jon Bakero looking to repay Fire’s faith in him by making a difference

PHILADELPHIA — The Chicago Fire may have lost a bit of quality in the goal-scoring department with the departure of David Accam, but their first-round draft pick might just be able to help pick up the slack.

Before trading Accam to the Philadelphia Union during the second round of Friday’s MLS SuperDraft, the Fire sent a total of $175,000 in allocation money and goalkeeper Matt Lampson to Minnesota United for the fifth overall pick. Chicago used that selection to nab the talented Jon Bakero, the Spanish attacker who excelled as a midfielder and forward during a four-year stay at Wake Forest.

The 21-year-old Bakero, who is the son of former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Jose Mari Bakero, was a MAC Hermann Award finalist because of the impressive 16 goals and 14 assists he recorded in his impressive senior season in 2017. Now, both he and the Fire are hoping that he can bring that difference-making ability to the final third in his first year as a professional.

“I think I’m a player that can score goals,” said Bakero, whose family was back in Barcelona watching the draft to see where he would land. “Hopefully I can help them with that and win some games.”

The Fire did their share of winning in what was a strong bounce-back season last year, but expectations will be higher in 2018 given how promising things looked. Accam’s absence will create a huge hole, however, as it takes away Chicago’s fastest attacker and secondary scoring threat behind MLS Golden Booter winner Nemanja Nikolic.

Replacing Accam and his production in the final third will not be easy, but Bakero might be able to help the Fire out in that regard if he can earn a regular role from the start and deliver the type of performances that saw him enjoy so much success in college. No, Chicago will almost definitely not ask Bakero to come up with the 14 goals and eight assists that Accam recorded in 2017, but the Spaniard could at least produce a fraction of those numbers.

Chicago is probably hoping for that, at least.

“We feel Jon Bakero will fit in really well with our style play and what we’re looking to do,” said Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez. “He’ll also give us some versatility as we feel he can play underneath Nemanja or alongside Nemanja. He’s also a player who is mobile so he can slide outside and come inside.”

Regardless of where he lines up, Bakero will be eager to repay the faith that the Fire have shown in him. It is not lost on the youngster how much the club gave up to move ahead in the draft and select him, and he wants to show Chicago that doing so was not a mistake.

He also admittedly wants to make a name for himself, but knows that it will take time to fully acclimate to the speed of play in MLS.

“I think you have to take it day by day,” said Bakero. “You are playing with unbelievable players that have a lot of experience, so you have to start from the bottom and build from there. I’m really excited to share the locker room with unbelievable players and start working.”

Of all his new teammates, Bastian Schweinsteiger is the player Bakero mentioned when asked if he was looking to play alongside anyone in particular. Bakero insisted time and again, however, that he just wants to get started.

That will be sweet music to the ears of the Fire, especially after trading multiple assets to move up and get him.

“The fact that they did so much to get me means a lot,” said Bakero. “Now it’s my turn to get on the field and start working hard and prove that I’m a player that can make a difference.”

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