Familiar Fire Faces
As the Chicago Fire gear up for DC United Saturday night,
the first team will lineup against a few faces familiar to the organization. United
players Brandon Barklage, Thabiso Khumalo and Barry Rice all came through the
Fire PDL team prior to moving to Major League Soccer. While the three are
teammates now, they all represented the club at different times: Khumalo
(2004), Barklage (2008), Rice (2009)
It’s a pretty common occurrence considering the Fire PDL
side is currently represented by 18 players across 11 teams in Major League
Soccer. Holding the record among PDL teams for most players drafted by MLS
clubs, the Fire PDL has 36 players currently playing professionally in MLS, the
USSF Second Division and abroad, reaching from right here in Chicago all the
way to the Premiership and Bundesliga.
“It’s a program that has a proven track record of producing
great professional players,” said Khumalo. “It’s fun to look back and see so
many of the guys you played with also playing professionally.”
Khumalo spent the 2004 season with the Fire PDL, lining up
with the likes of Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Drew Moor (Colorado
Rapids), Vedad Ibisevic (1899 Hoffenheim, Germany) as well as current Fire
defender Dasan Robinson and former forward Chris Rolfe (Aalborg BK, Denmark).
Appearing in 12 matches, recording eight goals, “Boyzzz” was
eventually selected by the club in the following year’s MLS SuperDraft but
never played a game with the first team. After bouncing around the USL First
and Second Divisions and making a playing return to South Africa, Khumalo found
his way back to MLS with DC United at the end of 2008.
“The Fire PDL helped me get going in the right direction for
my career. Things didn’t work out for me with the first team but I’m thankful
for the preparation I received, playing with and against some of the best
players in the country and doing it all with such a well-run organization.”
United defender Barry Rice was a constant on the backline
last season for the Fire PDL side, appearing in 13 matches and helping backstop
the team to the North American Championship match. While 10 players from that
team were selected in this year’s SuperDraft, Rice was passed over by all MLS
teams in the January curtain raiser. Earning an invite to United training camp,
Rice claimed a place on the club’s first team roster last month.
“Seeing so many of the guys I played with last summer get
drafted -- there was a bit of disappointment when it didn’t happen for me,”
said Rice. “It just made me more determined and I grabbed the chance with D.C.
Unfortunately Rice won’t have the chance to appear in
Saturday night’s clash, sustaining a concussion earlier in the week, he’s being
kept out of the lineup as a precaution.
“It’s too bad, I would have liked to be available for
selection against a club I have a history with. I have a lot of good memories
from last summer – playing in the U.S. Open Cup, coming so close to winning a
PDL championship – we had so many good players on that team and it shows from
all the guys that are on MLS rosters this season.”
For Fire Director of Player Development John Dorn there’s
little surprise that the three made it to Major League Soccer.
“All three certainly showed potential to get to the next
level and that’s why we brought them in when we did,” said Dorn. “We had them
all on our radar screen and wanted to see if they had the ability to get to the
next level. The PDL operation is about identifying and researching players for
the first team. We looked at selecting all three guys but Boyzzz was the only
one we took. Things didn’t work out with him here but he’s still a good player
– all three are. We’re proud to have had them come through the Fire system.”
The Fire take on D.C. United tonight at 6:30 pm CT at RFK
Stadium in Washington, D.C.