The Chicago Fire went into the 2012 SuperDraft looking for the best available talent over filling a specific need. It looks like they got both.
With the 9th overall selection, the club selected Austin Berry, a 6'2" central defender from Louisville. A former Chicago Fire PDL member, Berry is one of the oldest players in the draft at 23 years old and his maturity showed throughout the day.
"I'd like to thank my parents, someone needs to get tissues for my mom over there, I think she's struggling," Berry said wryly during his post-selection speech to the fairly large crowd at the Kansas City Convention Center. He didn't really show any of the public speaking nerves that plagued some of the other top draft picks. He also mentioned he preferred ketchup over mustard on his hot dogs, a tidbit that may infuriate the Chicago fan base.
"He's a solid center back, he's very good in the air, and more than anything, just a different maturity level, someone who can contribute right away like Jalil (Anibaba) did," said Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas.
When asked about how this selection affects Anibaba, Klopas said his role in the middle of the defense likely would not change. "I think Jalil for me is someone who can play right back, but he's better as a center back and I think he showed that last year," he said. What this may mean for the other current central defenders on the roster Cory Gibbs, Josip Mikulic, Yamith Cuesta and Kwame Watson-Siriboe is unknown.
The Fire had two picks in the second round and started out by boosting their attacking options. With the #23rd overall selection, they selected another older player in 24-year-old forward Lucky Mkosana from Dartmouth. Originally from Zimbabwe, Klopas hopes Mkosana will be able to provide speed and versatility to the club:
"He had a fantastic Ivy League season, I'm surprised that he fell a little bit, but it was good for us," said Klopas. "Technically, I think he moves very well and he works both sides of the ball."
Overall, Klopas seems to be very excited with his options up front and may be done searching for another attacker for the time being. "I feel very comfortable at the moment going in," he said. "I think I have different options because there's depth, there's competition, and any given day, there are guys that will start and other guys that don't, which is good because then you can have impact players coming off the bench that can bring him different later in the game which I felt wasn't the case in every position last year."
With the 28th selection, the Fire will hope to fill a glaring hole at left back with the selection of Hunter Jumper from the University of Virginia. "We were trying to make some moves to get cover on the left side and Hunter was there," said Klopas. "I think he's going to have to compete in order to make the team, but this was more of a positional move." He also mentioned that Jumper will likely be competing with 2011 open-tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos to be the backup left-back to starter Gonzalo Segares. First round selection Austin Berry entered the draft with a contract from MLS but Mkosana and Jumper will have to earn a deal in pre-season.
Another reason the Fire selected two defenders today may have to do with some uncertainties with other players such as Steven Kinney, who missed the entire 2011 season. "There's a question mark now with Kinney with his injury coming back that you never know," said Klopas. He did not expand on what Kinney's latest setback might be, but it appears the club is not taking any chances.
There were no picks traded today during the draft, which surprised Klopas. "We tried to do something to move up, but nobody wanted to do anything," he said. The only major trade of the day occurred before the draft began when the Portland Timbers dealt struggling forward Kenny Cooper to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for 2013 First-Round MLS SuperDraft selection and allocation money.
When asked about Uruguayan striker Diego Chaves, Klopas was very direct in saying, "We don't have his rights." He also did not mention Chaves when discussing the attacking options he was excited about for the upcoming season; a telling sign which likely means Chaves has played his last match as a member of the club.
Klopas would not confirm any details about midfielder Pavel Pardo, but numerous sources at the draft have confirmed that it is a done deal and Klopas even said later in the day, "We expect Pardo to be with the team when the pre-season starts." If it is a done deal, the move would strengthen a midfield that already added a similar player in Colombian Rafael Robayo on Monday.
The Fire head coach essentially admitted that the supplemental draft may not bring in any players that will make the final roster. "It would've been good if some players didn't get selected here that we thought would have been available," said Klopas. The supplemental draft takes place next Tuesday.
Overall, Klopas believes today was a very good day for the club and that the players drafted would join a strong core already in place. "I feel very comfortable with the players that we have because there's a good base coming in and we're trying to improve in every spot," said Klopas. "Now we have another solid center back, we have another player up top, and we needed depth on the left side, so while you have to come in and compete, we believe we have the players to make this team better."