Fire at will: Chicago pull the trigger early and often to acquire players and assets on hectic draft day

BALTIMORE – It's a legend as old as the MLS SuperDraft itself: The wheeling and dealing that unfolds between coaches and executives in the hotel bar the night before the draft. 

According to Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, his club's hectic Thursday afternoon was keyed by “a very, very busy night” – but not so much cocktails and whispers as room-service meals, hours of video analysis and exhaustive game-planning. 

“We actually didn't see the light of day since two days ago, since we were in my room working different scenarios for today,” the Fire's new coach told after drafting Brandon Vincent, Jonathan Campbell and Alex Morrell and snaring a hefty stack of allocation money to boot. “We actually had dinner in my room, so everything was happening there, lots of people, staff, who were amazing today. We were working very hard.

“I think we prepared well and I can say that one of the scenarios that we had was the one that you saw happening today. So we are very happy.”

The Fire brain trust clearly like the three young prospects they picked up. But they're just as excited about the funds they plan to wield in their ongoing hunt for veteran savvy on both the international and domestic free-agent markets.
“A significant amount of general allocation, combined with what we already have, puts us in a really good position in the international market,” said Chicago general manager Nelson Rodriguez. “We've come to agreement with one center back. That contract is not signed, but we feel good about it and we believe it will go through. We continue to pursue another center back out of Europe – allocation money helps in that regard, again.
“Today's moves also now give us the flexibility to now start to look at central midfield positions in the international market as well ... When we're able to announce our MLS free-agent signings, you'll see some experience there, in one of those two players as well.”

Chicago's day opened with the selection of much-coveted attacking midfielder Jack Harrison. But when the Wake Forest standout did not appear in front of the media with a team scarf and a smile as is the custom, eyebrows raised. As it turned out, New York City FC – the club that had tried to capture Harrison with an unsuccessful Homegrown claim and made no secret of their admiration for the Englishman – were approaching the Fire yet again, upping the ante with the last of several trade offers. 

Harrison switched teams, as did the No. 4 pick and a handful of allocation money, and one of the Fire brain trust's scenarios clicked into place, clearing the decks for choosing Vincent, the polished Stanford left back. 

“I actually spoke to his agent ahead of time and told him, 'Jack's our choice, but there's a scenario that could play out where he may find himself at New York City and I want you to be prepared for that,'” explained Rodriguez. “It's important to us that he and his family and his agent knew we felt that way. 

“The offer from [NYCFC] is one that really worked well for us. It's going to help us complete our puzzle of putting together our team, and we love Brandon Vincent too. We think he's a superb human being and an excellent soccer player.”

Vincent's acquisition left the Fire with a sudden surplus on the left flank. So Trinidad & Tobago international Joevin Jones – one of the bright spots of a rough 2015 at Toyota Park – was sent to Seattle in exchange for the Sounders' No. 15 pick and another chunk of allocation dough. 

“There has been a lot of interest in Joevin throughout the entire offseason. And that interest just kept growing and growing and growing – and we resisted it,” said Rodriguez. “But once we saw the opportunity to have Brandon, we knew that would be an even swap in our minds. 

“We think Brandon fits us better – we think Brandon's a very, very special person. His intelligence is something we like on the field – it's going to be a critical ingredient to all the players we bring in, given Pauno's very adaptive style. And once again, a significant amount of general allocation.”

The horse trading would intensify. Chicago quickly shipped that 15th spot out to Colorado along with the No. 33 pick and the top spot in the MLS allocation order, gaining the No. 12 and 22 draft picks in return. That allowed the Fire to drape their scarves around UNC product Campbell, followed by Morrell, the unheralded North Florida winger who was a surprise standout at the Combine, with the second pick of the second round. 

“We think that after this draft, we improved our team, and we have assets to go and improve even better – to go to the international market and bring the players that we want and like, and think will fit our team,” said Paunovic.