Chicago Fire’s 2017 MLS SuperDraft

2016 was supposed to be the season Chicago Fire changed things.

After finishing 2015 at the bottom of the league with just 30 points from eight wins, they needed a change and tried to enact it with new management. But debut General Manager Nelson Rodriguez and first-time Coach Veljko Paunović failed to move them forward (they followed with seven wins and 31 points in 2016).

The result: Chicago Fire occupied the berth at the bottom of Major League Soccer for a second straight year. The outlook: plenty more work needed to be done.

So for this year’s SuperDraft, they made their plan clear: a preparedness for any eventuality with a clear contingency plan to get them what they want.

Following this plan, they emerge from the two-day SuperDraft with five players. The question is have they found their next franchise star? Here’s a look at them:
Pick: #11

Name: Daniel Johnson

Position: Midfield

School: University of Louisville

They started the day with two first round selections – #3 and #11. But after agreeing an unheard-of $250,000 in allocation money from NYCFC to forgo the #3 pick it left them only with pick #11 in round one.

With it, they opted to take University of Louisville midfielder Daniel Johnson.

Now perhaps the best of his credentials are the three years (2009-12) spent playing at West Ham United’s Academy. But from his four years of college soccer, he clocked up 64 games – the first two seasons at the University of Maryland where he appeared in 23 of them, before transferring to Louisville and collecting seven goals and five assists from a further 41 appearances.

With exception to David Accam – the Fire’s 2016 Player of the Year – wide players are not something they specialise in, but at the same time is an area they certainly need to improve.

Johnson’s stock was high going into the draft following multiple reports he was one of the standout performers at the combine. And with this pick, they haven’t just ticked a box, but in Johnson, drafted a player who arrives knowing he should be pushing for a starting spot.
Pick: #26

Name: Stefan Cleveland

Position: Goalkeeper

School: University of Louisville

Another deal to kick-start the second round. This time, the Fire traded $75,000 in targeted allocation money with Toronto FC for the 26th and 27th selections.

And with the 26th pick, they went back to the University of Louisville for Stefan Cleveland, only the second selected goalkeeper in the draft.

His also holds a college career split between two institutions: his final season played in Louisville with the first three spent at Dartmouth. He played a total of 55 games over four years, and averaged a clean sheet in almost 50% of them (26). Most impressively he was named the 2015 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

He definitely claims a spot on the roster, and will most likely slot in as the third placed keeper behind newly signed Bava and Matt Lampson, but coming into this squad with impressive numbers like this there is nothing to say he isn’t a player who we could see clocking up minutes in 2017.

 

Pick: #27

Name: Guillermo Delgado

Position: Forward

School: University of Delaware

Following immediately with the #27 pick, they drafted Delaware’s Spanish striker Guillermo Delgado.

Delgado is another award winner to land on the roster – after picking up the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year honour in 2014 and wrapping up his college career, earning the 2016 Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year award. This follows quite an impressive return of 49 goals and 19 assists from 78 matches in Delaware.

This is an interesting pick. On paper, Delgado almost goes in as a starter. He is a proven finisher at college level who has shown he knows how to “find space and exploit it” (as his GM commented). But as an international player he occupies an international spot on the roster, and given the Fire have all of these slots filled, either someone gives way or they trade for an additional place.

 

Pick: #47

Name: Brandt Bronico

Position: Midfield

School: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

In the second day of the SuperDraft, the Chicago Fire selected University of North Carolina at Charlotte midfielder Brandt Bronico.

He went with the third pick of the third round, pick #47 overall.

In his four years spent in Charlotte, he was named a three-time First-Team Conference USA selection as well as Conference USA Player of the Year in his final year. He also notched 25 goals and 23 assists in that time – with nine of those goals and five assists coming from just 18 matches as a senior.

This is a player who has grown, and proves he has the calibre. Usually the question for a fan to ask might be, “can he fit in with our style of play?”, but a different look and feel is what Chicago need right now, and maybe not fitting in could be exactly what they need.

Worth also bearing in mind with the position of this pick that Matt Polster, the Fire’s #7 2015 draft pick, played an important role as a holding midfielder and was one of last year’s better performers, so Bronico is by no means guaranteed a spot.

 

Pick: #69

Name: Matej Dekovic

Position: Defender

School: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Back to Charlotte again for their final pick, and finally that was a defender.

Matej Dekovic went with the #7 pick of the fourth round and #69 overall.

The Croatian had a strong finish to his college career – his final year saw him pick up multiple accolades including NSCAA First Team All-Southeast Region, First Team All-Conference USA and NCCSIA First Team All-State; this rounding out a college career of 57 games over the course of three seasons.

After finishing with the leagues worst record in 2016, the Fire are crying out for a solid back line, which puts Dekovic in with a shot, but he also faces the same – albeit more difficult – uphill battle as Guillermo Delgado does with his status as an international player. He will really need to perform in pre-season to make the cut.

On reflection…

The intention of any draft is to build competition for every spot on the roster (last year’s first round picks became starters for the Fire – #4 pick, defender Brandon Vincent, and #12 Jonathan Campbell – playing a combined 59 MLS matches).

And after a terrible season they needed quality added to every position. So while they surprisingly only came away drafting one defender, they did take five players each capable of pushing for a roster spot, some a starting spot. But really the big talking point was choosing to trade high with NYCFC for additional funding and what that may lead to…

So, what’s next?

The Fire haven’t wasted time in spending the cash they acquired from their trade, and made the move to shore up their roster by signing of New York Red Bull’s captain, Dax McCarty (costing them $400,000 in general allocation money – a net $150,000 after their draft day trade).

To add to what has already been an active offseason from a player acquisition standpoint, Dax joins central midfielder Juninho on loan from Club Tijuana, forward Nemanja Nikolic from Legia Warsaw and goalkeeper Jorge Bava.

There are also reports linking the Fire with European heavyweight midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Andres Guardado as taking their third DP slot.

After another last-place finish, the pressure was/ is on to make the right adjustments to turn them back into a playoff side. They were always going to need more than one season to do that, but now they head into their second season under Rodriguez and Paunović in good standing.

Let us know what you think of the Fire’s pickups in the 2017 draft in the comment section below. Which of these players has the best chance of making an impact in the upcoming season?

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