CHICAGO — In Sporting Kansas City’s 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday, Kevin Ellis saw some minutes as a defensive substitution. For the first time since 2011, however, Ellis was wearing a different kit.
After being signed as a homegrown player in 2011 by Sporting KC, Ellis, who was born and raised in Kansas City, spent seven seasons with his hometown club. He was a flexible forward-turned-defender and served as one of the first options off the bench for Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes for several seasons.
At the end of the 2017 season, however, the relationship turned sour. Ellis and the team decided to take a mutual leave of absence in September in what was originally reported as a suspension. He was still under contract for 2018, but Sporting KC tried to offload him in the offseason. Despite technically being on the club’s roster this preseason, Ellis trialed with FC Dallas before he was officially released by Sporting KC just before the start of the season.
He moved on to trial with the Fire and was officially signed by the team on Friday to a contract for 2018 with a club option for 2019.
“He brings experience and a lot of athleticism,” Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “He’s also someone who can help in the setup of our defense. He’s going to be important for us the whole season.”
Ellis made his debut for the Fire against his former team, entering the match in the 85th minute as a right back. He said that the transition has been smooth due to the clubs’ similarities.
“The styles are similar and the principles are similar,” he said. “Both places are demanding of the players and the style of play on game days and the way that they train. I feel like it suits me best to be in a place where the training is intense and the guys like to play.”
Few details were reported as to why the leave of absence occurred, and neither Ellis or the club has been willing to speak publicly about it. Instead, Ellis says he is just focused on his future with the Fire.
“It feels good to play soccer wherever you play,” he said. “It’s part of the sport. It’s rare to stay in one place your whole career and I was there for seven years. I appreciate everything they did for me for those seven years but now it’s time to look forward and not think about the past.”