MLS Mock Draft: Fire take Grant Van De Casteele with No. 8 pick

Photo courtesy of Notre Dame athletics

It's hard to go wrong by taking the captain of the national champions.

Again and again - especially in crucial games down the stretch of the season - the 2013 Chicago Fire back line were undone by simple movement in space. A striker curling into the gap between the lines, or a midfielder drifting forward, or any kind of diagonal run would lead the Fire defense into a sort of stunned disbelief, as if the starting center back tandem of Austin Berry and Bakary Soumare were shocked, just shocked at such deviant behavior.

One on one, Berry and Soumare are two of the tougher asks in MLS - each is strong and swift, and each seems hungry for the opportunity to tackle somebody - but when the challenge is to mark up fluidly, or manage space, each needs a partner whose skills skew less to combat than to control. Enter, then, Grant Van De Casteele: 23 years old, captain of Notre Dame's NCAA champions, my pick for the Chicago Fire with the eighth selection in the SB Nation mock draft.

Make no mistake: Van De Casteele is a better footballer than an athlete, a guy whose agility of mind is his biggest asset. Again and again in the NCAA postseason, it was Van de Casteele who snuffed out attacks by simply out-anticipating foes. He seems to have good feet, receiving the ball comfortably, and showed some ability to step forward into midfield if invited to do so. What's more, he has a built-in relationship with another guy the Fire are hoping to get a lot out of, 2013 MAC Hermann Trophy finalist (and CF97 Homegrown) Harrison Shipp.

It's his ability to organize, to direct more-combative teammates during the chaos of play, that could make him a starter with the Fire. Berry and Soumare each would benefit from a more cerebral partner. Anything that raises Berry's form toward that of his Rookie of the Year season in 2012 (when he had the wise mind of Arne Friedrich prompting his decisions) would be a welcome development. A defense that leaked 52 goals - a team record - can have no complaints about fighting for places.

The product of youth club Andromeda in Texas - where he was a teammate of reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers - Van De Casteele had to fight for his place at Notre Dame, redshirting his freshman year before acclimating to the college game. He's also diligent, as shown by his Big East Student-Athlete of the Year award.

Finally, and frankly, he's someone I've scouted with my own two eyes. The Chicago Fire have bangers to spare; we need a schemer, a trickster, a mind. If I'm not mistaken, Van De Casteele could be that mind.

What the Chicago Fire will be looking for in the draft: The Fire need help all over the back line, as Gonzalo Segares is aging and the tandem of Berry and Soumare remains unconvincing.

Who the experts say the Chicago Fire will pick: Eric Miller of Creighton or Marlon Hairston of Louisville

Why I'm invariably wrong: With the eighth pick, the Fire are surely thinking they should be able to snatch up a Generation Adidas player, thereby taking nothing away from the salary cap while getting a player with presumably greater upside.

Why I'm smarter than the pundits: The Fire have a loose, funny clubhouse vibe, and Van De Casteele fits right in - check this out.

Full Mock Draft results (click on player names to see the profiles)

First Round

Team Blog Pick
1. D.C. United Black and Red United Patrick Mullins
2. Philadelphia Union Brotherly Game Steve Neumann
3. Vancouver Whitecaps 86 Forever Andre Blake
4. Columbus Crew Massive Report Steve Birnbaum
5. FC Dallas Big D Soccer Christian Dean
6. Union Brotherly Game Marlon Hairston
7. Whitecaps 86 Forever Damion Lowe
8. Chicago Fire Hot Time In Old Town Grant Van De Casteele
9. San Jose Earthquakes Quake, Rattle and Goal Eric Miller
10. Montreal Impact Mount Royal Soccer A.J Corrado
11. Colorado Rapids Burgundy Wave Schillo Tshuma
12. New England Revolution The Bent Musket JJ Koval
13. Seattle Sounders Sounder at Heart Aodhan Quinn
14. LA Galaxy LAG Confidential Fifi Baiden
15. Toronto FC Waking the Red AJ Cochran
16. Houston Dynamo Dynamo Theory Mamadou Diouf
17. Portland Timbers Stumptown Footy Reinaldo Brenes
18. Real Salt Lake RSL Soapbox Ben Sweat
19. Revolution The Bent Musket Marco Franco

Second Round

Team Blog Pick
20. Chivas USA The Goat Parade Enrique Cardenas
21. Sounders Sounder at Heart Taylor Peay
22. New York Red Bulls Once a Metro Pete Caringi
23. Crew Massive Report Pedro Ribeiro
24. Toronto FC Waking the Red Joey Dillon
25. Union Brotherly Game Jared Watts
26. Timbers Stumptown Footy Kevin Cope
27. Union Brotherly Game Kyle Venter
28. Earthquakes Quake, Rattle and Goal Mackenzie Pridham
29. Impact Mout Royal Soccer Jimmy Ockford
30. Whitecaps 86 Forever Nikita Kotlov
31. Revolution The Bent Musket Victor Chavez
32. Dynamo Dynamo Theory Kristopher Tyrpak
33. Rapids Burgundy Wave Rafael Diaz
34. Red bulls Once a Metro Alex Martinez
35. Rapids Burgundy Wave Zach Bolden
36. Timbers Stumptown Footy Mark Sherrod
37. Impact Mout Royal Soccer Michael Calderon
38. Sporting Kansas City The Daily Wiz

Romena Bowie
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