It was just two years ago that the Chicago Fire Premier set a USL Premier Development League record by seeing 10 former players selected at the 2010 MLS SuperDraft in Chicago.
The accomplishment was a great advertisement for the club’s storied Player Development department but at the same time, the story line lacked a silver lining: none of the 10 selected were picked by the Chicago Fire.
Two years on, the Fire first team made sure that didn’t happen as they made defender Austin Berry the first of a record-setting 11 Fire Premier players selected at Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft in Kansas City.
“I knew there were a few players from our Premier program that were on the radar screen,” said Chicago Fire Director of Player Development John Dorn. “When we got down toward number nine, Frank [Klopas] and the boys had Austin at the top of the list. He fulfills a need – a big, athletic center back that has good feet. He’s a presence on the field and a good leader.”
Berry was a part of the 2010 Fire Premier squad, scoring one goal while playing in all 16 of the team’s matches that season. The Cincinnati, Ohio product did yeoman’s work in being the anchor of a completely new backline for a team that saw all four starting defenders -- Tim Ream (New York), Seth Sinovic (New England), Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake) and Barry Rice (DC United) – join the league that January.
Berry’s selection with the ninth overall pick began a trend of clusters of Fire Premier players selected. His 2010 teammate Ethan Finlay (Creighton) was taken with the next pick by the Columbus Crew before Toronto FC selected Notre Dame defender Aaron Maund.
Three picks after that, Seattle Sounders FC picked up Creighton defender and Mokena, IL product Andrew Duran before four straight Fire Premier players were picked. From selections 19-22, CFP saw LA select defender Tommy Meyer (Indiana), midfielder Callum Mallace (Marquette) go to expansion Montreal, defender Tyler Polak (Creighton) taken by New England and another Indiana defender Chris Estridge selected by the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“There was a player today we really wanted to get in the second round that was part of our system,” said Dorn. “Unfortunately he wasn’t there when we wanted him to be. That’s the nature of our business and we’ve dealt with it ever since we started 11 years ago.”
CFP would see Notre Dame midfielder Brendan King taken 25th overall by Portland before Greg Jordan’s 32nd overall selection by Philadelphia tied the USL record at 10. It was 38th and final pick of the draft, Louisville midfielder Kenney Walker to the LA Galaxy, that put CFP over the top.
With the record unlikely to be broken anytime soon, Dorn also signaled a shift in the club’s strategy at the Premier level heading into the 2012 campaign.
“At the same time there are mixed emotions year after year when you’re sitting in the draft and you see players that have been in our system that we’d love to keep with us get picked by someone else. When you look at what happened today, the eleven guys picked is a whole reserve team you could go through and build up. As we move forward, there are going to be changes in the way MLS player development systems operate. Instead of recruitment and identification, its going to be a lot more about development and those kids that we bring into our program at a young age will come in and play in our PDL team.
“The hope in the future is that when we stand here on a day like today, we’re back in Chicago celebrating an unlimited number of Homegrown signings.”
Dorn will still take pride in the 11 players picked Thursday, bringing the total number of Fire Premier players selected in the MLS SuperDraft to an even 60 since the program first began in 2001.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.