much different -- surrounding the 2005 edition of the SuperDraft. Two more teams means more clubs that need to fill specific needs, which in turn means a less predictable draft board and more wheeling and dealing before and during the draft. A new four-round format means two fewer rounds and more importance attached to each selection made. But, most importantly, zero clear-cut favorites for the top selection by Real Salt Lake (if they plan to keep it, that is) means there will be several more guesses as to who the newest face of MLS might be as it enters its 10th season.
However, just because there is not a unanimous go-to-guy for this year's top spot, it doesn't mean this year's crop of incoming talent lacks, well, talent. And while the Fire, like every other MLS side, would love a "pick-and-play" guy that could contribute immediately, Chicago has had plenty of success with guys who could bide their time on the second squad before stepping up -- see Jim Curtin, Damani Ralph and Logan Pause as prime examples of what type of players Chicago has collected after the supposed marquee names have been taken off the board.
It could be this second tier of players that the Fire will excel in snatching up in this year's SuperDraft, thanks in large part to one portion of the team's youth development system -- the successful Chicago Fire Reserves of the Premier Development League -- supplying several alumni to stock this year's draft pool. While not all of the 74 players that took part in this past week's adidas MLS Player Combine was a former Fire Reserve, a dozen of them were, and the Fire's technical staff indeed has a leg up when it comes to scouting those future pros.
The Fire's "homegrown" talent stream began last year when Chicago made defender Denny Clanton and goalkeeper Matt Pickens the first Reserves players to be chosen by the senior team, and it's a pretty safe bet that as the draft closes down on Friday, at least one of Chicago's late round selections will be a CFR alumnus. More than a half dozen former Reserves, including the MetroStars' Ricardo Clark and L.A. Galaxy's Ned Grabavoy, have made the leap to MLS, and that number might double when Friday is all said and done.
With the "Men in Red" due five selections and two more conditional picks in Baltimore, the only guarantee is that Major League Soccer's second-youngest team at the end of last season is certain to get a lot younger. While there are no sure things, half of the Fire's record 10 draft picks last year made the opening day roster, and with four more spots for each team in 2005, you can rest assured that most of the players picked on Friday will be coming to an MLS town near you this year, whether it be with the senior side or the new developmental teams soon to be put in place. The following are just some of the players available in this year's SuperDraft with ties to the Fire Reserves and Chicagoland:
M Danny O'Rourke (Indiana): A resume that includes the 2004 MAC Hermann Trophy award and a pair of College Cup titles makes the former Fire Reserve (2004) a sure-fire first round selection. But it's O'Rourke's tenacious, gritty style of play that makes him a possibility for the top pick. The Columbus, Ohio, native would be a coup for the Crew, who would have to move up from its first selection deep into the second round (20th overall).
M Luke Kreamalmeyer (Bradley): Another member of the 2004 Fire Reserves squad, Kreamalmeyer entered last week's adidas MLS Player Combine as an unknown player from a decent college program. He left The Home Depot Center with the Combine's Most Valuable Player Award and, most likely, plans to hit the web in search of the cheapest fare to Baltimore for this weekend's proceedings. Kreamalmeyer contributed six assists for the Reserves in the summer of 2004, good for third on a very talented squad that went undefeated through all 18 games of the PDL regular season.
GK Brad Guzan (South Carolina): One of the "CFR Dozen," Guzan was considered the top goalkeeper prospect heading into last weekend's combine. After accumulating an incredible 0.39 GAA, spotless 13-0-0 mark and eight clean sheets in the 2004 PDL season, Guzan is sure to follow in the footsteps of another former South Carolina netminder, Henry Ring, and provide solid back up for an MLS squad immediately.
F Julian Nash (Creighton): It wasn't a bad year for Nash, who kicked off his playing season in 2004 by leading all players in scoring during the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after notching 10 points on four goals and two assists during the Fire Reserves' impressive run to the tournament's third round. The forward then turned around to play his senior campaign for Creighton, where he led the Blue Jays in scoring with 21 points (6g, 9a) and helped the team to a 14-4-2 record and a third round appearance in the NCAA College Cup.