Watson-Siriboe on his first MLS match

Rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe became the first Fire rookie to appear in 2010

On January 14, 2010, collegiate soccer standout Kwame
Watson-Siriboe sat on an airplane in Miami, anxiously awaiting a phone call
that would change his life. Bound for Los Angeles, flight attendants were moments
away from shutting the cabin doors and the 6-3 defender kept looking at his
phone. The anticipated call might be missed with the five-hour cell phone
blackout he was about to experience.

Then it rang.

The voice on the other end said, “Chicago Fire, second
round,” and he breathed a sigh of relief – eventually.

“I actually couldn’t breathe at first,” said Watson-Siriboe.
“I was so excited and relieved because I really wanted to be drafted -- it took
a few minutes to calm down. My mom was there with me and that helped. I was
going to start living my dream.”

Minutes later the plane took off and Watson-Siriboe wasn’t
able to immediately tell friends about what would become the next chapter in
his life.

Watson-Siriboe came to the Fire from the University of
Connecticut, where he appeared in 55 matches, scoring three goals in his
four-year collegiate career. In recent seasons, the Huskies have produced a
number of players that have gone to Major League Soccer: O’Brian White (Toronto
FC), Julius James (DC United), Chukuwudi Chijindu (Chivas USA) and Toni Stahl
(Philadelphia Union).

“UCONN has a rich tradition in college soccer and everyone
there strives to become a professional.”

Perhaps most famous of the UCONN alumni with an MLS pedigree
is former Fire striker Damani Ralph, who spoke to Watson-Siriboe after the club
selected him in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.

“Damani told me that Chicago was a great place to live and
the team and organization were very professional – there were worse places for
a rookie to end up. ”

Two-and-a-half months later, following a grueling preseason
trip through Phoenix, Guadalajara, Brandon, MS and Houston, Watson-Siriboe made
his MLS debut last Saturday, going the full 90 in the Fire’s 2-2 draw away to
the Colorado Rapids. The first of the four Fire rookies to play this season, the
23-year-old replaced dominant veteran center back Wilman Conde, who was out
with an injury.

“I didn’t find out until game day that I would be start. We
knew Wilman was banged up but I thought they might go with one of the veteran
defenders. I was surprised, but prepared myself.”

Lining up against one of the league’s most dynamic striking
partnerships in U.S. international Conor Casey and his Jamaican counterpart
Omar Cummings, the rookie held his own, working his way towards a comfort
level.

“I felt I was timid at the beginning, but I slowly got a
rhythm in the game and improved as it went on. Overall it was just good to get
it out of the way and now I’m going to build off of it so I can earn more
playing time this season.”

For Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas, starting
Watson-Siriboe was elementary.

“We had high expectations for Kwame when we start preseason
with us in February,” said Klopas. “He has a lot of ability – he’s strong,
quick and good with his feet – all good characteristics for a center back. We
had a lot of confidence in starting him against Colorado and I think his
performance against those two strikers shows why. We expect him to grow off of
the performance and develop into a strong center back in this league.”

The biggest adjustment for rookies coming from the college
ranks to MLS is in speed of play, though Watson-Siriboe pointed to the
competition for spots as another big difference.

“Every day people are playing to be included in the starting
11. In college the team is usually set -- upper classmen dominate the lineup
and you have to wait your turn. Here it’s definitely more level of a playing
field – you have to perform everyday to get playing time and its not based on
your age or your name – just the way you play.”

Watson-Siriboe will hope to impress enough in training this
week in hopes of earning more playing time in Saturday night’s 2010 home opener
against the San Jose Earthquakes at Toyota Park.