With Tuesday’s signing of midfielder Daniel Paladini from the Carolina Railhawks and defender Josip Mikulic from Croatian side NK Zagreb, the Fire find their first team roster at 20 players ahead of Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore.
Paladini and Mikulic join former U.S. international defender Cory Gibbs as the offset to eight players that have left Chicago this offseason either by the expansion draft, free agency, release or retirement.
With the league allowing teams to expand their roster sizes to 30 players to accommodate a longer 34-game season and the return of the 10-game reserve division, it’s clear that Frank Klopas and his technical staff still have work to do in filling out a roster with preseason training camp now just 17 days away.
With four choices on Thursday, it’s safe to say the league’s annual entry process for college players will be a big help in working towards a 30-man roster.
If the league’s Generation adidas list is used as representation, the 2011 SuperDraft class looks to be a strong one, with five of the nine players coming from NCAA national championship side Akron University. It’s a list that seems much more balanced with attacking, midfield and defensive talent throughout.
Having selected a Generation adidas player with the first pick in each of the last three SuperDrafts (Bone, Husidic, Nyarko), it seems a good bet that the Fire could be picking from that nine player list early on Thursday.
A first round selection needs to be the type of player, especially in the Fire’s case, that can step right into the team and quickly adjust to the professional game. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a starter from Day 1, but teams that have success in this league have been able to build through the draft.
In terms of strategy for that first pick, while defensive and attacking positions are where the club is most in need of upgrades, it may come down to who is the best available player (non-goalkeeper) after the Vancouver Whitecaps have made their second selection at pick number eight.
What makes Thursday’s early round selection much more important is that once Commissioner Don Garber announces the pick and the photos and handshakes have ended, the Fire will have a whole lot of nothing to do until third round pick, pick 45.
Having lost the natural second round selection the club would have had to Seattle as part of the Freddie Ljungberg trade, Klopas’ staff will watch 36 players be selected before the chance comes to pick again. To be sure though, MLS SuperDraft day has been known to have more than a few trades. I have no inside knowledge, but the possibility of any club moving up in the pecking order is certainly open.
If no trades occur, the technical staff will have plenty of time to get ready for the barrage of selections that will be made towards the end of the draft when the club will pick 45th, 49th and 51st.
How did the Fire get so many picks at the end of the SuperDraft?
Answer: The 45th selection is the natural pick the Fire would have, the 49th pick is the final compensation from the New York Red Bulls after the hiring of Juan Carlos Osorio in December 2007, while the 51st pick was the ever-present “conditional draft pick” in last summer’s trade of Tim Ward to San Jose.
While having three of your four picks coming in the final 10 selections, it is good to note what the Fire did with late selections this time last year where defender Steven Kinney was chosen with the 45th overall pick and goalkeeper Sean Johnson was taken 51st overall. (Could it be an omen…?)
The lone Generation adidas goalkeeper in last year’s pool, Johnson may prove to be one of the most valuable late selections in SuperDraft history. Having claimed the Fire’s starting spot halfway through his rookie season, the 21-year-old keeper is currently part of U.S. Men’s National Team training camp in Carson, CA and is the front runner for the starting role on the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2012 games in London.
On the other hand, Kinney was a player that impressed at last year’s combine, but came from a school (Elon University) that has never seen a player advance to the professional ranks. Like Johnson, the gritty right back proved his worth midway through 2010, with a strong defensive game and the ability to provide danger on set pieces.
If you add second round selection Kwame Watson-Siriboe into the mix, the 2010 Fire draft class logged a lot of minutes. When you add in Corben Bone, whose full potential I don’t think we’ve yet seen, 2010 could prove to be a very valuable SuperDraft for the club.
It got me to wondering, what has been the Fire’s best and worst draft class since 1998?
When I ask that, I don’t mean a draft that just saw the club get one superstar player like in 2000 with Carlos Bocanegra. I’m talking a more solid draft, one that’s yielded 3-4 players that have contributed.
By those standards, I believe the 2003 and 2005 SuperDrafts have perhaps been the most valuable. The former saw Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph and Logan Pause come to Chicago while the latter had Chad Barrett, Chris Rolfe and Gonzalo Segares joining the Fire.
What do you think has been the Fire’s best SuperDraft Class?
Tune into ESPN2 Thursday at 11am CT for first round coverage of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Get behind the scenes coverage of the lead-up and aftermath of the draft via Facebook.com/ChicagoFire and @ChicagoFire on Twitter and join myself as well as The Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz, MLSsoccer.com's Sam Stejskal and Fire Confidential's Guillermo Rivera in our live chat at Chicago-Fire.com beginning at 10:45 am CT!
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.