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Fire Fri Jan 16 2015

Chicago Fire Take Two at MLS SuperDraft

Chicago FireThere was a time when the annual Major League Soccer SuperDraft meant something, to the league, to its constituent clubs, to its players. But somewhere after 2012 the wheels started to come off and things have shifted. The event had logos designed for it each year that echoed other leagues' All-Star events, and it was even broadcast on television, usually on ESPN2. Since the 2012 SuperDraft the event has been relegated in a sense, falling to ESPN News and ESPN3, with this year's being solely streamed live on YouTube; there hasn't been a new logo for the event since 2013. This is not to be construed as doomsaying, just that the event -- which took place this Thursday in Philadelphia -- felt like a labored gasp from a player allocation system wearing out its usefulness.

The prevailing wisdom regarding player development in soccer is that the academy is king, developing players fit to operate within a system that is tightly plotted from the club technical director on down. This approach is one that has born fruit in the past few years, as MLS clubs' academies have finally begun to see their products come of age and get signed to their club under the auspices of being a "homegrown" player. This gives an even greater sense of accomplishment for clubs, as they have not simply gone and bought the best players in the league, but carefully scouted and developed talent on their own.

Of course, even as this academy model gains steam it is many years away from being the primary source for squad depth. As such the draft exists in a state of flux, neither the most important mechanism but far from irrelevant. There are still a great many talented athletes coming out of the college system who will have the ability to impact the future of the league, but the stark reality is that Division I soccer programs do not produce the sort of primetime-ready players one is accustomed to seeing in leagues like the NBA or the NFL when drafted. There are exceptions to the rule, like current Stanford student Jordan Morris who in 2014 became the first active college student in almost 20 years to earn a cap playing for the senior Men's National Team. Closer to home perhaps one can say the same of the Fire's Harrison Shipp, runner-up in last season's Rookie of the Year voting.

The Fire came into Thursday's SuperDraft with some pretty pressing needs in the backline, having parted ways with veteran defenders Bakary Soumare, Patrick Ianni, and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in the past year. This offseason the Men in Red have bolstered their defense by adding Joevin Jones, Eric Gehring, recent Brazilian signing AdaĆ­lton, and new homegrown signing Patrick Doody as well. Given the state of the roster it would have been the observation of most watching the draft that the Fire would choose a defender to give depth to what had last year been their weakest asset. Few of those observers would have guessed that Frank Yallop and Brian Bliss would choose Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville central defender Matt Polster, but his was the name announced by league commissioner Don Garber.

Polster-with-Commish DL.jpg
New Chicago Fire draft signing Matt Polster with MLS commissioner Don Garber

Polster's emotional display of gratitude over being selected so early in the draft was a genuinely affecting moment, and it bodes well for the amount of heart he will likely bring to the team this season. Considering that he may have to play out of position to fit into Yallop's designs for the squad that quality will be necessary to succeed.

The other player selected by the team on the day was Kingsley Bryce of Saint Louis University, who went in the second round, 28th pick overall. Bryce has played the role of forward and midfield in his college career, and would likely to appear at midfield given the current unsure statuses of both Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.

It will be interesting to see how these players will fit into the retooled squad that Yallop and Bliss are engineering. The current roster is a very top heavy on, and these additions do little to fill out the back, but they are a pair of quality young players who may yet become assets for the team.

Rounds 2 and 3 of the SuperDraft will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

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