Later today, around 1 PM central time, the 2021 MLS SuperDraft will commence. All the MLS teams will be looking to strengthen the back ends of their squads and maybe find a stalwart pillar for years to come.
All of them, except for the Fire.
For the second season in a row, the Fire have maneuvered themselves out of the first round of the draft. They traded the #6 pick way back in December to Colorado for 125k in General Allocation Money, and don’t look to be making an attempt to get back into the first round. That leaves them with pick 33 (the 6th pick in the 2nd round,) pick 47 (the 20th pick in the 2nd round,) and pick 60 (the 6th pick in the 3rd round.)
In the 2020 draft, only four of the players taken in the second round signed contracts with MLS teams, and in 2019, while there were 10 of them who signed, three of them were for expansion side FC Cincinnati, who were looking for bodies to fill out the roster. Going back a year earlier, 2018 saw 9 players selected signed, including the Fire’s last second-rounder to make the squad Diego Campos, who currently plays in Norway.
All this is to say that as little as the first round of the draft matters, the second round matters even less. The Fire have clearly pivoted to using their academy to flood the roster with young talent instead of the draft, and with the quality, we see coming out of it with the recently traded Djordje Mihailovic and the fantastic Mauricio Pineda, you can’t really blame them.
However, the draft isn’t just about the draft. It’s an opportunity for all the technical and coaching staffs’ to all be in the same room at the same time. It’s a place to make deals and take a peek over the shoulder at how other organizations work— to figure out who’s doing things better than you and learn from them. It’s true with COVID-19, we’re losing that opportunity. Presumably, the whole thing is going to be done via teleconference and everyone is going to be safe and masked up. Even so, by not participating in the first round, it feels like the Fire are missing out on an opportunity.
With all that being said, what should the Fire do? One of the more interesting things about the MLS draft is the trend of talented collegiate international players to fall like rocks during it. This is for two reasons usually. The first is that there’s always the potential for them to sign contracts overseas— rendering the draft selection useless. The second is that despite being in American college for 3 to 4 years, they count as an international player and thus, take up a precious international roster spot. If the Fire wants to maximize the percentage of success, there will be at least one or two international players of first-round; sometimes top 10 quality available at 33. That’s where they should strike. As for 47 and 60, I honestly have no idea. Find some bodies at some positions of need, striker or center back, and invite them to camp to see what you got. However, I fully expect them to pass on 60, which you are allowed to do.
If you want to catch the draft, the first round is being streamed on YouTube and on MLS’s social media channels. The second and third-round picks will be found out on MLS’s website. In case something happens, I’ll be on @HotTimeOldTown live-tweeting the draft once it starts.