Jalil Anibaba has found a new home.
The Chicago Fire’s first-round draft pick met with the club’s technical staff after Thursday’s SuperDraft, coming away from the introduction thrilled to be a part of the organization.
“I’m very excited,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I feel at home. I feel very welcomed and I feel very appreciated and that feels great to say – and that’s completely honest and genuine.”
Anibaba should be excited. The offseason departures of starting center backs C.J. Brown (retirement) andWilman Conde (free agency) means the former University of North Carolina defender will have a chance to crack the first XI on opening day – a rare opportunity for a rookie.
“He’s got good upside and can have a good impact for our team right away,” Fire technical director Frank Klopas said Thursday. “I expect him to be able to come in and compete for a starting spot.”
Anibaba, who played in 85 matches during his four year college career, downplayed the starting lineup chatter.
“That’s ultimately coach’s decision,” he said. “All I can do is go in with an open mind and try and contribute in any way possible. As far as the starting lineup goes that’s coach’s job and coach’s responsibility and not mine.”
Regardless of whether or not he cracks the starting lineup in time for First Kick, when Chicago open their season away to Dallas on March 19, the vocal Anibaba will be a welcome addition to a back four in search of a new leader.
“I try to keep as calm as possible so I can make decisions that I need to,” he said. “But I do like to impose [my vocal skills] on the game. I like to use that as kind of a guideline to keep me engaged and my teammates engaged.”
The 22-year-old center/right back, who was named the MVP of the 2011 Combine, displayed good vision and passing skills in college – something that should suit him well as he moves into Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos’ possession-based system.
“I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “I feel like for my position you have to be comfortable doing that. I was comfortable doing it at the college level but the professional level is a different ballgame so we’ll see what happens.”
Whatever happens, it promises to be quite the ride for Anibaba, who can’t wait to get it all started.
“I was just very excited when my name was called,” he said. “Now it’s time for the big time.”