As always with MLS Superdrafts, the Fire faithful were hopeful heading into yesterday’s edition of the showcase. My view on a draft is to take the best available player; then positions of need can get hammered out as the offseason goes. In the case of the Men in Red, the supporters were desperately crying for one position. Center back. Center back. Center back. I could continue to type it out 15 more times, but I’ll save your eyes and my fingers, which would signify the amount of draws Chicago had last season; many of which occurred due to a lack of closing out matches.
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As the draft went on, and midfield maestro Cristian Roldan slipped further down from his projected draft spot of No. 2, some Fire fans clamored to snatch him up. Despite the fact he’s a midfielder, it seemed like a good shot at pick No. 7. Even if the Fire wanted to stick with the center back strategy, none had been selected and fans were looking at Syracuse’s athletic Skylar Thomas as a great option along with towering 6’7″ Axel Sjoberg of Marquette. The selection made by Chicago at the seven spot left a few fans baffled.
The Fire selected Southern Illinois University Edwardsville center back Matt Polster. Polster was overcome by emotion as he went on to thank those that helped him make the big leagues. The Fire noticed his elevated play at the combine along with stout defense in SIU-Edwardsville’s first round NCAA Tournament upset of Northwestern in Evanston. The flexibilty Polster brings as a center back or defensive midfielder made him very appealing to Fire Head Coach Frank Yallop.
Jan 15, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Matt Polster takes a moment to gather himself after being selected as the number seven overall pick by the Chicago Fire in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft at Philadelphia Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Yallop stated on the Fire site that:
"“Matt was outstanding in the Combine. He’s very athletic, a versatile player. We see him as a center back right now. He was scouted by our staff and we liked him every time we saw him play.”"
Polster started in all 79 matches he appeared in, scoring 6 times and adding 12 helpers. While center back was his main position, he started at central defensive midfield as well. The Fire seem to be going towards a local identity, displayed by some of their offseason pickups to go along with the fact that Polster appeared in three matches for the Chicago Fire PDL squad in 2014.
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With the 7th pick in Round 2 (28th overall), the Fire selected St. Louis University forward Kingsley Bryce. Bryce scored 23 times and contributed 12 assists in 79 appearances during his college career. It seems flexibility and a need for an outside winger prompted this selection as Yallop said:
"“Kingsley plays in a position that we wanted to fill. He’s also a versatile player, can play wide right, and is a powerful player who had four good years at Saint Louis.”"
Polster should be ready to go straight in to the first team and compete at center back with new acquisitions Adailton and Eric Gehrig. There is also a lot to learn from veteran center back, previously defensive mid, Jeff Larentowicz.
It is expected that Bryce will likely play with the new Fire affiliate, USL PRO side, Saint Louis FC. This should allow him to grow as a player, close to home, before making the trip to Toyota Park where he can hopefully make his dreams a reality. There will be more on the Fire-Saint Louis partnership coming up from Playing for 90.
Overall, many outlets are calling the Fire draft a bust. Polster is being called a “reach” and Bryce was called to the combine a day before it started, as he was not expected to be drafted. That said, hopefully the Fire have found their gem like FC Dallas did when they selected an unknown commodity out of the Colorado School of Mines, now 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele. It wasn’t long ago that a Fire center back won Rookie of the Year, just go back to 2012 to see the impact Austin Berry had for the Men in Red.
Berry also played for the Fire PDL side before winning Rookie of the Year with the club. Hopefully, the Fire have found their Austin Berry and some in Polster.
You can read more about the picks on the official Chicago Fire website.