It’s always interesting when things come full circle in MLS… Follow me if you will…
Take a ride back to last September when the Fire acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado in exchange for a conditional MLS SuperDraft selection.
The condition stated that if Thompson appeared in four of the team’s remaining regular season matches, the Fire would surrender their second round selection at the 2013 SuperDraft to the Rapids. He did and the Fire bid farewell to the pick.
Not so fast…
Then consider the news out of the Denver Post today where Rapids President Tim Hinchey said Larentowicz was nearly traded to the Columbus Crew instead of the Fire.
Flash forward to the night before the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis when the teams did another deal, this time with the Fire acquiring central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz as well as the same second round pick they’d surrendered to the Rapids (30th overall) in exchange for their first round selection (11th overall), an international roster spot and allocation money.
Apparently the Rapids had turned down “better offers” from other teams in order to grant Larentowicz his wish of coming to Chicago rather than Columbus.
One of the main pieces at play in that potential deal was the MLS rights to midfielder Robbie Rogers, which the Fire also ended up acquiring in the trade that brought Dilly Duka to Chicago.
Not the Fire or Rapids could have predicted Rogers would retire but beyond that, you almost wonder if the other part of the potential Crew/Rapids deal could have been Duka?
But I’m getting off topic here…
Things officially came full circle today when Yazid Atouba, the player selected with the 30th pick that went back and forth between the Rapids and Fire, officially signed with the Men in Red. Slightly unheralded at the SuperDraft, Atouba gained confidence in every preseason match and dazzled Fire fans towards the end.
Certainly a pleasant surprise at #30 overall...
Take it all in and let me leave you with a few parting shots…
* Let me point out that this type of juicy “after-the-fact” trade possibility is something we just don’t hear about enough in MLS.
* It says something about the culture created internally when an MLS veteran like Jeff Larentowicz chooses to come to your club.
* Kudos to the Rapids for doing well by the player.
* Who knows who the Fire would have selected with the 11th overall pick but my safe money is on the fact that Yazid Atouba wouldn’t have been it.
* No offense whatsoever meant to Wells Thompson, but who’d have thought this all would have come from his slightly under the radar trade last fall?
Feelings on joining the Chicago Fire?
"I’m extremely delighted to be drafted by the Fire. I feel it’s a golden opportunity for me to play under better conditions and show what I can do in MLS."
What are the strong suits of your game?
"I think my strengths are my speed, ability and technique. I feel like I have a lot to offer in those areas."
On coming from Cameroon…
"The training conditions I’ve had to play under in Cameroon aren’t as good as in Chicago where they have top facilities and a great stadium. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play in that stadium."
On youth international experiences with Cameroon U-20's
"I feel playing with the Cameroonian team at the U-20 World Cup raised my profile a bit and gave me something more to build towards. Representing your nation in a world championship is an amazing thing and I was very proud to play a part in all four games."
On his combine performance…
"I did feel that I had a strong combine. I came in off of an 18-hour flight and felt a little tired in the second half of games but I think I did very well to prove my abilities at the combine."
His thoughts on joining the Fire…
“I’m happy for a new challenge,” Larentowicz told Chicago-Fire.com Wednesday night. “It feels good to go to a place where you’re in the plans. Frank has been very forthright in coming after and it’s something I look forward to being a part of.”
On his contentious years against the Fire…
"In the past in my time in New England the Fire were always our biggest rivals. We were very similar, very competitive teams that were hard-nosed. Its just kind of the nature of things that both teams had wanted to win in the past but now I’m part of the Fire and I still have that same competitive spirit that’s going to come and work for Chicago."
On competition in central midfield…
"I’ll be competing for a spot and its an opportunity to come in and show that I deserve to be in the lineup and that’s what I expect. I know those guys from playing against them – they’re all good players and I look forward to competing for that spot."
On ability to stay fit throughout the years…
"The way I look at seasons and playing is the more time you can be available and give the coach the option of playing you, the better off you’re going to be and the more opportunity for good things to happen. I think over the past seven years I’ve been able to do that."
On being part of championship teams in New England and Colorado…
"On all the teams I’ve been on it was never that they depended on me but it was more of a collective thing and the way I view how I play and what I try to do. The Fire are a playoff team and always in contention. I hope to add to that and be a piece that helps take the team to the next level."
About this time last year I got Patrick Nyarko's pretty clear recollections of his 2008 MLS SuperDraft experience. I followed up a year later with some more in depth (and funny) questions about how he prepared personally for the day itself.
Jeff Crandall: How did you decide what you were going to wear to the Draft?
Patrick Nyarko: (Laughs) Back in 2008 it was easy enough. I just called my mom and asked her what kind of suit I should wear and I don’t think I had any say in what it was…she picked it all out. I didn’t mind because it made it all easier.
JC: What did you eat for breakfast that morning?
PN: I was actually supposed to get to the hotel the night before but it snowed heavily that night and so I drove up early in the morning and caught up with some of the other guys. I think I just had a regular buffet breakfast served up by the hotel – scrambled eggs, waffles, that kind of stuff.
JC: What thoughts were going through your head when your name was called eighth overall?
PN: It’s probably the same for a lot of people but my main concern was not tripping when I got to the stage like Austin Berry did last year. After that it was about who I would be shaking hands with first on the stage. But it was really just don’t do anything stupid – every step of the way I made sure I didn’t fall.
JC: What advice would you give your future teammate that gets drafted by the Fire on Thursday?
PN: The work starts right now. You’ve worked hard to get to this spot – to be invited to the draft and have your name called -- that’s a lot of fun. After that it’s a lot of hard work, moving up from the college to pro level there’s a lot more responsibility. As long as you’re willing to work hard and with the coaches, you’ll be fine.
JC: When you signed your contract with the league, what was the first thing you went out and bought?
PN: I think I bought a Mac Book. I had a regular computer before so I got a Mac. I’m not saying it was an upgrade but that’s what I got... It was great.
On Monday I wrote a piece with Wells Thompson reflecting on his experience of getting heckled by Fire fans at the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. Perhaps more importantly, we also talked about the experience and what it meant for him to get drafted.
Wells is a talker and gave some good answers to a few other questions I couldn’t fit in the story. Those are below…
What advice would you give to the players that will be selected in Thursday’s SuperDraft?
"What’s so encouraging is when you look in the league and look at a lot of guys that have succeeded and done well – Jeff Larentowicz comes to mind because I played with him for so long in New England and Colorado. Chris Wondolowski is another name. They both came through the Supplemental Draft and have had fantastic careers. There are a lot of big names that have succeeded and done well in the league after being picked at that stage.
"When I look at my situation, I was very fortunate to be selected by New England. At the time they needed an outside midfielder and the coaches were keen on the type of player and person I was. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter where you get selected in the draft. When you go into training camp, everyone’s pretty much starting in the same place. Everyone has a clean slate and it’s up to you to prove your worth.
"The wisdom I could give kids is no matter where you’re drafted, go in and work hard because there are so many success stories of guys that were taken very low or not taken at all that have gone on to do big things in MLS."
To go from a college player with few if any accolades to the fifth overall selection in the SuperDraft, you must have raised your stock at the MLS Combine. What are your thoughts on that event?
“Yeah I did okay but the combine is such a different thing. Guys are getting together for just a weekend without practice. It’s not the fairest assessment of a player’s talents in my opinion. Your college career is probably the best judgment still on how a player would do in the league.
"What you can take a lot from those combines is seeing guys that don’t shy away from the big stage and wanting to continue to prove to coaches and other players that they do belong in the league. For me it was a confidence thing -- I went down to the combine and realized I was as good, if not better than a lot of these players and I think that confidence showed throughout that weekend."
Ahead of the opening of the 2013 Combine on Friday, the SuperDraft “Big Boards” have begun to make their appearances.
MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg, Matt Doyle and Jason Saghini ran through their initial thoughts on the first 19 selections for Thursday’s SuperDraft.
Simon and Matt both agreed on the Fire’s choice at 11th overall, saying they thought Frank Klopas and Co. would select Generation adidas signing, Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh, while Saghini differed with his pick of midfielder Erik Hurtado from Santa Clara.
Having just turned 18, Manneh seems to be a wild card in this draft. During the 2010-11 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign, the 5-9 forward tallied 35 goals for the Texas Rush.
The closest teammate to him goals scored was Marco Molina at seven.
Manneh didn’t play in the Academy league this past year but the then 17-year-old did suit up for the USL Premier Development League’s Austin Aztex, tying for the team lead in goals with 10 in 12 games before adding three more in two playoff matches.
Hurtado is a bit more of a known quantity. The Beaverton, Ore. product was a four-year stand-out at Santa Clara where he was actually teammates with current Fire defender Jalil Anibaba in 2009.
The attacking midfielder led the Broncos in goals all four seasons, tallying 33 to go along with 20 assists over 76 matches.
The last two summers, he’s suited up for the Portland Timbers U-23 PDL side, tallying an impressive 14 goals in 18 matches.
Elsewhere over at TopDrawerSoccer.com, J.R. Eskilson and Travis Clark projected the Fire to select Maryland midfielder John Stertzer 11th overall.
A product of Oakton, Va., Stertzer tallied 25 goals and 14 assists over 79 matches between 2009-12.
Stertzer came into his own offensively over the last two seasons, bagging 21 goals and 11 assists and helped the Terrapins in their return to the NCAA College Cup this past December but is expected to take on more of a holding role in MLS.
What do you think of the three projected players? Certainly with two offseason additions in attack, none of the three may stick out to Fire fans on paper and all would seem to be sort of project players. Of course these are just initial lists and the Combine has a lot to do with the reshuffling of the draft order.
We’ll be sure to keep up with the combine this weekend and the newest Mock Drafts to come out from it…
59 Days until Opening Night at Toyota Park
54 Days until First Kick in Los Angeles
12 Days until the First Team departs for training camp in Ave Maria, Fla.
These are important beginning of the year days but none are as close as the 2013 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis which is now literally right around the corner next Thursday, January 17.
With the event being so close to our fair city, Section 8 Chicago is running a bus to and from the SuperDraft for just $10 (departing Toyota Park at 7AM and returning at 9pm).
Admission to the actual draft is FREE and signups are beginning to go quickly.
So...get on the bus and you’ll be the first fans able to greet (and indoctrinate) the newest member of the Fire like these folks did with the future MLS Rookie of the Year last year in Kansas City…
Convinced yet? Sign up here and see you in Indy!