The season is almost two months away, but Frank Yallop's defensive shakeup in Chicago officially began on Wednesday.
The new coach and director of soccer operations traded starting right back Jalil Anibaba in exchange for Seattle center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (above) and Patrick Ianni. The Fire also moved down from the eighth to the 13th pick in Thursday's SuperDraft in a move that sent away the first of the Chicago's 11 players who started at least 18 games last season under Frank Klopas.
“Right away, I recognized that we looked light on the defensive side of things,” Yallop said Wednesday on a conference call. “Any chance I had to talk to clubs, it was about defenders and people with experience, especially in MLS. It's always nice to get players on the outside, but I think getting guys that have been successful in our league always feels better for me.”
Chicago now have four center backs on their roster with significant starting experience, including incumbents Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry, who has started all 62 games since he took over the spot as a rookie in 2012. Hurtado has started at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons, while Ianni has started 34 times over that span.
Yallop wouldn't rule out keeping all four center backs, but he also alluded to more moves ahead.
“What I like about them is I can have all four of them,” Yallop said. “I may use part of the trade or whatever, or even guys that we have that are on the roster to get what I need. I think any assets, and any good players and people that other teams want … we can add them to our roster so we can use them as trade bait or assets. I think we just added strength to what we want to do.”
The move clears the way for Lovel Palmer, acquired in December from Real Salt Lake, to take over the starting right back spot. Anibaba started every game there during the 2013 season, and also started 93 games in his three seasons with the Fire.
Depth at right back was an issue throughout the early part of last season, but Yallop hopes Steve Kinney, who has impressed coaches during his short spells in between injuries, can provide cover at the position.
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“I think [Anibaba] did a fine job at right fullback, but it's not his natural position,” Yallop said. “Although Lovel Palmer has played midfield, I think his best attributes with the way he played last season have been at right fullback, and it felt really comfortable getting him on board. The depth at that spot is a bit of an issue for me. We do have Steven Kinney coming back free of injury now, so hopefully he can play at that backup spot.”
The Fire are now stocked at a position that Yallop said is “the biggest position that is coming in this draft.” Yallop wouldn't rule out taking a center back, but Chicago are now likely to look elsewhere in the player pool.
“The draft this year is pretty strong, but it's pretty even,” Yallop said. “I probably think we won't take a center back, but you know what, I like a lot of them in this draft, so don't be surprised if we do. It does open us up a little bit to explore to get some sort of attacking or a midfield player.”