In the second installment of MLSsoccer.com’s “Entrance Exam,” a series examining 10 of the most promising rookies entering the league this year, MLSsoccer.com spoke to Jalil Anibaba of the Chicago Fire.
The 22-year-old defender out of the University of North Carolina was picked ninth overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft by the Fire and looks like he’ll be a starter in a three-man back line for Carlos de los Cobos’ team.
MLSsoccer.com: What has been the most unexpected difference between MLS and college so far?
Anibaba: I would actually say definitely the speed of speed of play. That’s a big thing that to me is unexpected. Something that isn’t a difference, but a similarity that’s unexpected, is the fact that our team is so connected off the field and our team is actually a unit. That sort of reminds me of college and, to be honest, it was unexpected coming in.
MLSsoccer.com: Which veterans have provided the most guidance and in what way?
Anibaba: Without a doubt, Cory Gibbs. He has been my roommate throughout the course of preseason and he’s just told me what to expect as far as being a professional and how to handle the lifestyle and things like that, how to manage your body and how to prolong your career as long as possible.
And then, as far as on the field goes, Logan Pause has been phenomenal. He’s always giving me insights on the game that I didn’t necessarily consider before talking to him. He’s always constantly in my ear, helping me out.
MLSsoccer.com: It’s the MLS Cup final. It’s tied and it’s heading to penalties. Do you want to be one of the five penalty-takers?
Anibaba: Yes. I do.
[inline_node:326426]MLSsoccer.com: Do you think your coach would let a rookie defender be one of the five?
Anibaba: Well, um, that’s … that’s up to them, I think [laughs]. I think, as a player in those circumstances, you have to be ready. It’s one of those instances where if your team calls upon you, you have to be ready. I think if the team called upon me in that moment, I wouldn’t shy away from it. I would just take it with the best of my ability.
MLSsoccer.com: Have you ever taken a meaningful penalty in that sort of situation?
Anibaba: Yeah, I have. It’s interesting you asked because my UNC team nearly went to the College Cup, winning all our games on penalty kicks. Three games in a row, we won on penalty kicks, and I shot in each of those games. In the last one, I actually made the game-winning PK to get us to the final four, so that was the best PK I’ve ever made, hands down.
MLSsoccer.com: So you have a little bit of experience in that situation.
Anibaba: In college, yeah, but everyone knows it’s a different level here [in MLS].
MLSsoccer.com: Have you come up with a goal celebration yet, or will it be spontaneous should you happen to score?
Anibaba: I’m not much of a goalscorer, so I don’t plan out those things. I just like to go with whatever I’m feeling like in the moment.
MLSsoccer.com: Is there anything you’d like to say to the hardcore fans in Section 8 that you’ll be playing for this year?
Anibaba: We’re here to give the crowd something to watch and we’re here to win and play good soccer. I hope they all bring an unyielding support for us the rest of the year. We’re excited about playing for them.