As the Chicago Fire opened training to the media last Wednesday, the press looked on at a player they barely recognized, leading the side through conditioning drills. Side-by-side with veteran Brian McBride, Fire draftee Drew Yates looked seasoned himself, running through the exercises with ease and determination.
"McBride's a true leader," said Yates. "He's not necessarily vocal, but he leads by example. It's easy to take the players through a drill when you have someone of his stature right next to you."
Selected 29th overall in last month's MLS SuperDraft, the Severna Park, MD product was disappointed at not being taken earlier. As the second round wore on, he began to get the feeling that Chicago was in his future, as the Fire had two picks towards the end of the round.
"[Fire Academy Director] Larry Sunderland was actually my coach at the combine and he put me where I thrive -- in the middle of the park. I think I did enough to impress and as the picks kept coming, my girlfriend just started telling me that it was going to be the Fire - finally 29 in, it was my turn."
Yates' transition to the professional game has been somewhat the norm for a highly rated college player. Terms like "intense", "faster", "physical" and "more skillful" get thrown around a lot. For Yates, previous experience under Sasho Cirovski at the University of Maryland has helped a great deal during the transition.
"Going to Maryland is almost like playing for a professional team. The amount of talented players that come through the system, combined with a great coaching staff help prepare guys for the next step."
While playing in all 92 matches the Terps had during his time in College Park, Yates was used almost exclusively as a super-sub his first three seasons, starting in 39 matches over his four-year college career.
"Maryland has so many good players, it is hard to break into the team no matter how experienced. I embraced the role because it was working for the team but my desire is to be able to start every game, no matter what level. I'm working hard in preseason to earn contract, from there hopefully I can get into matches and continue to improve as a player."
With a new, seasoned coach at the helm, Yates is looking to prove himself good enough to earn a contract with the Chicago Fire. So far, he's enjoying the system that is being implemented.
"This situation is nice, because everyone is new to Carlos and 'el Profesor', [Alvaro Briones], but they have already won our respect. They've eased us into preseason a bit, working into the way they want us to play and understanding their system. The players appreciate Alvaro because most of the conditioning work he's having us do is with the ball - it's definitely something we're not used to. Carlos really likes us to play quickly, pushing the attack and the players seem to respond well to that."
With the first preseason match of 2010 looming next Monday, February 15 against the USSF 2nd Division's Vancouver Whitecaps, Yates is looking forward to the chance to play against some fresh competition.
"It's going to be nice to play against someone else. We'll have been in preseason for two weeks and we're ready to start being a bit more competitive."