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.