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)
|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|
|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|