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MLS Draft: Meet Jalil Anibaba - the Chicago Fire's top draft pick

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I was in the Live Chat the Chicago Fire hosted yesterday during the MLS SuperDraft as some talented forwards kept falling down the draft board.  The general consensus from the 'panelists', commentators and Twitter followers alike was that the Chicago Fire would take a top tier goal scorer if available.  There's only two listed forwards on the Fire roster right now and one of them was again rumored just 24 hours ago as a target to leave.  Top prospects Will Bruin and Corey Herztog were available when it was finally Chicago's turn and I said in the chat that I was confident either one would be taken.  I eagerly awaited the Fire's pick to see "Chicago Fire select D Jalil Anibaba".  I was confused to say the least and I honestly didn't know that much about him going into the draft.  After a day of research and conversation, let me tell you despite my early concerns, I think we got a real winner here.  More thoughts on Anibaba after the break.   

The first thing that caught my eye was a Tweet from Peter Lowry

@ Congrats on getting my boy Jalil. @ this is a great pick. Your new CJ if anyone could ever replace CJ.

I didn't get the immediate connection but it turns out that Lowry went to Santa Clara from 2004-2007.  Jalil Anibaba went to Santa Clara from 2007-2009.  In Anibaba's freshman year, he started all 22 games and led the team in minutes played.  During their one year together, Peter Lowry was apparently so impressed with college freshman Jalil that Lowry is comparing him to C.J. Brown.  Okay, but sure, players go over the top all the time and Lowry is probably biased for an old teammate and someone who went to his alma mater.  I stored this away as 'something to consider' and moved on.

Later in the day the Chicago Fire opened up an opportunity to jump on a conference call with Jalil Anibaba.  I was immediately struck by his maturity.  When asked about his strong combine performance, Anibaba replied that he didn't think of coming into the combine to impress.  If people thought he played well, it just showed that he was doing his job: "make the players around him better".  When asked if he was vocal on the field, he replied that he liked to take direction when he was team captain in college but he was going to be a rookie now.  It was time for him to take a student role and have the older players be his teachers.  Now you can say that stuff is routine.  In this day and age, answers like that are boilerplate.  All players are trained by their university's communications department on interviewing with the media.  Call me naive but he does sound like a very unselfish player who understands the value of a team.

In the word's of Reading Rainbow's Levar Burton, "but you don't have to take my word for it", here's what other writers said about Anibaba's combine performance.

Martin Shatzer of Black and Red United:

Anibaba, a senior out of UNC, is widely thought as one of the players who showed the best at the MLS Combine... He could absolutely start in MLS from Day 1.

Franco Panizo of Soccer by Ives gave Jalil Anibaba the No. 1 MLS Draft Combine performance:

Joao Plata's only quiet performance came on Day 3, and part of that was due to the stout defending of Jalil Anibaba, who was the combine's top defender. Anibaba was a rock in the back for AdiPure, constantly breaking up attacks with his physicality and solid positioning. He also dealt well with aerial balls and looked a step ahead of most of the attackers he faced. Anibaba distributed the ball as well as any center back at the combine, especially with his knack of unleashing pinpoint long balls to the right flank.

Kyle McCarthy of Goal.com:

Most defenders could stop their contributions there and collect considerable plaudits, but Anibaba deployed a refreshingly accurate array of passes to complement his defensive work.

Nicholas Murray of United Soccer League:

The orders came loudly and often from the center of the Adipure team’s defense at the Major League Soccer Combine on Monday afternoon at the West Broward Regional Park.  Jalil Anibaba was taking control again.

How about Dustin McCarty, a former teammate of Anibaba's at UNC and with the Carolina Dynamo:

He’s very vocal so I always know what’s going on over my shoulder.... Having him at the back and having his leadership really lets you know where to go and really helps you out with your decision-making.

I think you get the point...  Now part of every draft has its hype but Jalil Anibaba isn't producing his own.  The most cocky thing I've heard him say on yesterday's conference call was when he was asked who he patterns his game after and he responded that he only patterns his game after Jalil Anibaba.  He might take things from other players but he is his own person.  Standard boilerplate or a statement that the buck stops here? 

I suggest if you think it's boilerplate, you should check out the videos I'll be posting.  He comes across as genuine to me but you be the judge.  The last thing I'll say is after a season where defenders and goaltenders were frequently  engaged in visible and audible shouting matches after goals, a player with a clam demeanor who seemingly knows his place sounds great for 2011 and beyond.