Over and over again Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has harped on how center back has been the club’s priority this offseason.
However, outside back might be the position that has undergone the biggest overhaul for both the short-term and long-term future of the Fire.
From last year’s team, Lovel Palmer and Greg Cochrane had their options declined, Joevin Jones was traded and Eric Gehrig, who played some at right back last year, appears more destined to play at center back this season. Only Patrick Doody, who spent most of 2015 on loan with Saint Louis FC and made just seven appearances with the Fire as a rookie, is a returning outside back.
In this year’s draft, the Fire grabbed Stanford left back Brandon Vincent with the fourth pick. That meant competition for Doody, who showed promise at left back in his rookie season. When asked about the competition for playing time after training on Monday, Doody gave the politically correct answer that he would play wherever needed and explained he has played on the right.
[SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey]
“I am left footed, but I have played both sides,” Doody said. “It’s the same position, it’s just inverted. I think most guys at this level should have the ability to play either. If you’re an outside back you should be able to do OK at each side.”
That versatility could come in handy for Doody, but there also appears to be a lot of competition at right back. Free agent signing Michael Harrington, another left-footed player, has experience playing at both outside back spots and is a nine-year league veteran. He figures to get plenty of playing time this season.
“Left or right,” Harrington said. “It doesn’t matter. Either one.”
Third round pick Vincent Keller played center back and right back at Creighton, but is sliding over to right back as a pro because he is only 5-foot-9. It also appears that 2015 second round pick Kingsley Bryce is now a right back.
Bryce played forward in college at St. Louis University. Last year on loan with Saint Louis FC, Bryce played both midfield and defense. When asked what his position was on Monday Bryce answered without hesitation that he is a right back.
It’s not hard to see why the Fire could see the 22-year-old Bryce as a good option for right back. He’s 6-feet tall, fast and athletic at a position that requires tons of running up and down the sideline. At least physically, he seems capable of handling the demands of an outside back, but the position move isn’t an easy one.
“It’s tough,” Bryce said. “You have to learn to play where they need you. I’m still learning to play out of the back, but I think it helps that I know how to play forward so when I attack it’s something familiar to me.”
So, for now at least, it appears the Fire have five options at outside back. Harrington, 30, is the only veteran of the group, considering even Doody is still largely unproven.
Center back may be the club’s priority as far as acquiring new players, but outside back might be the most interesting competition in training camp.