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MLS SuperDraft preview: Will Fire keep or trade top pick?

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MLS SuperDraft preview: Will Fire keep or trade top pick?

The MLS SuperDraft takes place on Thursday and the Chicago Fire have the first overall pick so what should fans expect?

Starting at Noon, the Fire kick off the event in Baltimore. Or, at least the team will if it holds onto the top pick.

Trade offers, confirmed by general manager Nelson Rodriguez in a conference call on Tuesday, have been made to the Fire regarding that top pick. Rodriguez wouldn’t deny the team’s interest in potentially trading the spot, but also wouldn’t confirm that they desired to do so. The Fire already have at least two outstanding offers and Rodriguez said he expected one more attempt if the team decides to reject those offers.

“What I know regarding the No. 1 pick is, whether we keep it or we move it, on Thursday, we will be a better team,” Rodriguez said. “I believe there are starters [in the draft] along all four lines, goalkeeper, back, midfield and forward. That’s why I’m confident and we don’t feel pressured to do anything with the first round draft pick because we believe we will help our team no matter what.”

[RELATED - Rodriguez teases news of pending Fire signings, potential trade of top pick]

The Fire’s draft prep this year has also been met with unusual complications. Rodriguez took over in late September, when the college soccer season was already a month old, and coach Veljko Paunovic was hired while the NCAA Tournament was already underway meaning in-person scouting for the duo was limited. In addition, Brian Bliss, who led club scouting, left as the club’s technical director earlier this month. As a result, the MLS Combine, which concluded on Tuesday, took on more importance for the Fire.

“For us this year, the Combine was really important, perhaps even more so than in previous years and perhaps more so than it will be in future years,” Rodriguez said. “Specifically because Pauno didn’t have a chance to see as many players live as we would have liked and he would have liked. Although he watched extensive video on all of the players at the combine and many others who were not invited to the Combine, there is no substitute for seeing a player live, for seeing their behaviors off the field, off the ball and their reactions for things that might happen outside the view of a camera lense.

“In the future, I think the Combine will still have importance, but perhaps not as much because we’ll have a far better and far more robust scouting system and we’ll have more detailed dossiers on every player before we get down there.”

So who are the Fire likely to pick if they do end up keeping the pick?

Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro has been the top rated player and projected top pick by every mock draft under the sun. However, after the Combine concluded, word got out that some teams valued Wake Forest winger Jack Harrison higher than Yaro and may be looking to trade up to get Harrison.

[MORE: Fire release 2016 MLS schedule]

In addition, Stanford left back Brandon Vincent, the only senior among the top rated players, has gained some steam after receiving a call-up to U.S. Men’s National Team camp with the U-23 group as prep for the upcoming Olympic qualifying playoff in March. Akron midfielder Richie Laryea is also a name that is expected to be picked early.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Travis Clark of TopDrawerSoccer.com, a leading site in coverage of college and youth soccer in the U.S., broke down the outlook for those four players, which are the top rated players on the site’s MLS SuperDraft big board.

(It should be noted that Creighton forward Fabian Herbers, a late addition to the draft pool, is also rated as a potential Top 5 pick.

Top names to watch

Josh Yaro, Georgetown defender, 5-foot-11, 163 pounds

Clark: I think he is a player that can help a team. He can be a center back in MLS if you pair him with a guy who is big enough. If you don’t want to be constrained with that, you probably want to work him in as a right back. As someone in the D.C. area, I’ve seen plenty of him and there’s some part of me that I feel you could try him at center mid and see what sticks just because of how much ground he could cover and what he could do as a holding midfielder or maybe even a box-to-box type. In college, he was good on the ball and could burst forward and he’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen at that level, so he’s somebody who could certainly make an impact. I don’t know if he’s necessarily going to be a good enough right back to spend the No. 1 pick on. If there’s uncertainty there, I can see why people and teams would hesitate a little bit. There’s no question that he’s a Top 3, Top 5 guy and his character off the field, he’s going to put the work in to be the best player that he can be and be an asset for your team. There are other factors to consider, but there is no doubt that he can help you somewhere on the field.

Jack Harrison, Wake Forest winger, 5-foot-9, 155 pounds

Clark: He’s a really dynamic, fun-to-watch guy who came a little bit out of nowhere. He was a national player of the year with a few years of high school soccer, but considering high school soccer is a little bit less important these days in the U.S., you never know what to make of it. He burst onto the scene at Wake Forest and was the ACC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, which says a lot because the ACC is a good college soccer conference. He’s going to play the left side or the right side and he’s going to be able to run at outside backs. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to a better level of defending. He’s good on the ball and knows how to score, can set up teammates pretty well. He does a lot of the things that make people like watching soccer.

[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear right here]

Brandon Vincent, Stanford left back, 5-foot-11, 175 pounds

Clark: I think simply being a left back makes him an asset off the get-go because he’s a guy who is in a position where MLS teams struggle to fill. While he may not have some of the riskier, higher-upside abilities that some of the other younger talents might have, he seems to be the steady guy, a lock to spend several years in the league. He seems almost like a can’t miss as a pro simply because he is a very solid defender, a good player all-around, a good leader, does all the little things well. He gets forward a little bit, but he’s not your Dani Alves-type attacking outside back.

Richie Laryea, Akron midfielder, 5-foot-9, 150 pounds

Clark: I think he has a high ceiling. He’ll need to be in the right system where a coach is going to trust him. They’re going to look at what he does well and identify what the best position is, whether that’s an attacking mid or a box-to-box mid. He should fit in somewhere centrally, though you could make the argument that he has the dynamic ability, he’s not an out-and-out winger, but could be a player who starts wide and pinches in.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.