Fire fans have certainly had an exciting week already. From the rumored signing of Rafael Robayo becoming a concrete reality, to the report of Pavel Pardo re-signing with the Fire, there has been a lot of news, and it's only Wednesday. Well, the news will keep on coming Fire fans, as business is about to pick up even more with the MLS draft on Thursday. Coverage begins at 11 AM CST on ESPN2. Part of the HTIOT team will be on hand to make sure all the news that's fit to print ends up on this site. As a primer to the draft, Tweed had 2 wonderful recaps of how each conference has done in the draft the past few years (read here and here). And James and Tweed collaborated on a wonderful Frank Klopas interview that hit the site yesterday. It also gives some insight into the potential draft day strategy for the Fire. Join me after the break for my hat trick and QOTD all Fire edition...
1. The most important part of draft day is what the Fire do of course. They have a good number of picks this year, holding the 9, 23, and 28 numbered picks. As always, potential trades always add to the intrigue. There are strong rumors swirling that Toronto is looking to deal the 4th overall pick for the right price. According to the SB Nation blog Waking the Red, Toronto may in fact deal the 4th overall pick. The article specifically mentions that Tornoto would be looking for allocation money. Depending on what the Fire do the rest of the offseason in terms of signings, I think we could definitely afford to possibly offer some money Toronto's way if we really want to move up. To add even more insight into this thought, another article on a Toronto FC blog goes so far as to say they should trade the pick for an established MLS defender.
That of course got me thinking about the former Fire defender Wilman Conde. The Fire still hold the rights to the 29 year old Colombian defender. Although 29 is a bit on the older side, he certainly knows the MLS, as well as the Colombian and Mexican soccer scenes. I think the Fire should seriously consider dangling the rights to Conde and some allocation money if needed (less money than they would offer if Conde was not part of the equation of course) and try to move up in the draft. While other teams have more allocation money than the Fire, can they offer a legit defender like Conde? Frank has a unique trump card at his disposal if there's a player he really wants to on Thursday and doesn't believe he will last until pick 9.
2. Who should the Fire draft if the team holds firm? Again, we seem to be going with the "best player available" strategy this year. While that is never a bad strategy, there is always the risk of "will this player live up to what we think his potential is?" Unfortunately, drafting is not an exact science. Nobody is right all the time, otherwise every MLS team would be clamoring for that person's services. Even the best have hits and misses.
While I agree with Frank that a large core of the team will be back and that makes things a bit simpler, I still think we have a couple of areas of need that should be prioritized first. If the best overall player falls into a position of need, then great. If not, I think we still have to look at a couple of positional needs in the draft draft that should supersede everything else.
Before getting into a rundown of the Fire roster and how I think we should look to draft, let me prime you with a bit of information on some of the draft prospects. The draft overall is thought to possess some pretty good talent. Here is an article with some quick blurbs about some of the top prospects. This mock draft has us taking Kelyn Rowe. If he falls that far to us, it would certainly be appealing, but as the first article states, he is thought to need a bit of development. He is also an attacking midfielder type, and you can never have enough of those of course. However, as I will touch on in a bit, our midfield is pretty full. Frank did say the best player can either be an immediate impact type of guy or a developmental player, I am not sure that we go with Rowe, even if he does fall to #9 (I fully expect him to be gone before this unless we move up anyway).
This article does a good job of shedding light on every team's needs. The article mentions needing more goals (duh), as well as a creative midfielder. We all know what Grazzini can do, and the Robayo signing should help in this regard, especially with depth. Plus, we may still take a midfielder type in the draft, whether it would be the previously mentioned Rowe or someone else. A final piece I found sums up the top 15 prospects, as well as speculation as to what teams they may go to. That of course is dependent on draft order. If a team moves up or down, that certainly changes possible destinations. With that all out in the open, let's look at the state of the current Fire squad and what we should draft for.
Obviously, with Sean Johnson, we are set at goalkeeper. While it never hurts to have a good backup in case Sean leaves someday (which, if he keeps playing so well, I think he eventually goes to Europe). This draft is certainly not the time to use a high pick on a goalkeeper. I would like to think we have at least of couple of years of Sean's services left (hopefully more), but we needn't be in a rush to fill the backup spot now. Especially with the pick up of veteran Jay Nolly, I think we can cross this position off the draft list. Thus, I don't think the best available pick shouldn't be used on a goalkeeper, even if a good one is available.
Looking at the defense, it really solidified as the year went on. While we could use some depth, we still have a great core returning that can only get better. I would definitely support the idea of adding a defender, but I don't think we should do it with the #9 pick, even factoring in the best player available strategy. With Gargan, Anibaba, Gibbs, Cuesta, Sega, and Mikulic, we certainly have some great talent coming back. Depth is important in case injuries happen, and Kinney's future is certainly up in the air. I would love it if he could work his way back in the 18, but I am not so sure that happens. I would also like to see what Kwame Watson-Siriboe can do, but I also don't see how he gets in the team at the moment either. I think we should definitely look at defender with one of our lower picks if a good one is out there still.
Midfield is of course very crowded. With Grazzini, Nyarko, Paladini, Pappa (assuming he stays this season), Pardo, Pause, Bone, and Robayo, the team is pretty set. And that doesn't even take Mike Banner, or Mike Videira into account. While I would be fine with drafting a midfielder, especially an attacking midfielder, again I don't think we do it with the top pick. And that of course leaves...Forward
I was pleasantly surprised with Dominic Oduro last year. While that last sentence should be nominated for understatement of the year, I think Oduro definitely will keep it up and have another good season. However, we need more than just one guy capable of being an impact scorer. While Pappa can score, he won't be with us much longer, and he isn't an out-and-out striker. Gulley is far from ready, I don't think we will see Chaves back, and Orr still needs to develop. I am a HUGE fan of Orr, I think he can develop into a very good striker. But he needs to develop yet (and get more a lot playing time too), so I don't think we can count on him to shoulder a huge load this year. That leaves the draft or the open market, and the position of need for the Fire that I think is the greatest. We certainly can address this in the draft, especially if we move up to a higher pick. A big striker/DP signing also remains a concrete possibility as well but young striker talent is still needed..
Darren Mattocks, Casey Townsend, and Chandler Hoffman are all great prospects. And they will be in great demand. If any of the three are available, I think the Fire should pull the trigger with their top pick, whatever spot that may be. I am most intrigued by Townsend, who can use both feet and head the ball as well. This mock draft has us taking Townsend, and I would be really happy with that or another of the strikers I just mentioned. Of course, things are not black and white with a draft. Players you expect to be available sometimes aren't, and players you don't expect to be are (like last year with Jalil Anibaba).
Realistically, Mattocks will go in the top 2 picks. So we can cross him off but feel free to be jealous of the team that takes him on Thursday. After that, depending on how things shake out, both Townsend and Hoffman will be gone by the 10th pick, if not sooner. Things are further complicated if the Fire bring in a big name striker. They may look at another position if they do this, but there is no substitute for a young, good goal scorer that would be relatively cheap for the next couple of years at least. Thus, despite who we may end up signing yet, we must get a young scorer capable of providing double digit goals. Yeah, I know it's much easier said than done, but with this year's draft it's certainly possible. To get a young, legit striker that can develop over the next couple of years is vitally important.
Taking all of this into account, it's even more reason why we should look at moving up in the draft. Obviously, picking #4, or somewhere before #9, means you have more of a chance to make sure a given player is available. Hell, even arranging a trade with a higher picking team to make sure they pick the guy you want to trade for is a possibility. This happened, for example, between the Cubs/Reds and Josh Hamilton. The Reds wanted Hamilton, and the Cubs picked higher than them in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, and the Reds were afraid that Hamilton would not fall to them. So they arranged a trade that would guarantee the Cubs pick Hamilton, and dealt him to the Reds. That way the Cubs got what they felt was fair compenstion at the time, and the Reds got their man. The same thing could certainly happen Thursday (although I think the likelihood of something like this is much more remote than staying pat or simply moving up and making the pick ourselves).
3. In keeping the the theme of the draft and the Fire, it is worth remembering that sometimes great finds are found at the most unexpected times. Other times teams end up (unknowingly at the time of course) passing on what will be a future star, as my above Cubs/Josh Hamilton reference illustrated.
The same parallel can be drawn between a very sticky situation not that long ago, back in 2010. Despite coming off back to back Conference Finals appearances, the Fire shockingly waived Jon Busch just as the season was getting ready to begin. Although mention of this is certainly painful for Fire fans, it also is a reminder that we may not have Sean Johnson had Busch stayed. Don't get me wrong, I really liked Busch, and it was wrong what happened to him but in the end I think we got lucky that it has worked out in a tremendously positive manner for us.
Sean has been quite a revelation for the Fire, and he will only get better. Take a look at this Jeff Crandall article for a good article on Sean's climb to the Fire. I am a huge fan of Sean's and incredibly glad we drafted him. He has certainly been a huge bright spot for us so far. However, as with any professional draft, no pick is sure. No matter the talent, we all know names in different sports that were "can't misses" and ended up being "never were's". A guy like Sean that gets drafted 51st overall in the 4th round can end up being a superstar, and the guy that goes first overall can end up flaming out and never living up to the hype or potential. That's the danger that Frank and co. must do their best to navigate through. I am confident that when we look back on the 2012 draft we will have made some very good picks.
Question of the Day
Who do you think we should take with our first draft pick, regardless of what number it is?