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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.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

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USA TODAY

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.