CHICAGO, IL - The Chicago Fire saw three of its own leave the ranks of the "Men in Red" this afternoon, as midfielder Andy Williams, D/M Orlando Perez and goalkeeper D.J. Countess were taken with the second, third and fourth overall selections, respectively, in the 2005 MLS Expansion Draft. Williams became the first player selected by Real Salt Lake in the Expansion Draft, with Countess following the playmaker to Major League Soccer's newest franchise, while Perez was chosen by CD Chivas USA with its second pick in the draft.
"We knew we had a talented roster and expected to be one of the few teams that would lose the maximum number of players in the draft," said Fire General Manager Peter Wilt. "We wish Andy, Orlando and D.J. success with their new teams."
Real Salt Lake General Manager Steve Pastorino wasted little time in raiding the roster of his former front office's team, as the ex-Fire Assistant GM made Williams the first player taken by the Utah-based side in the Expansion Draft with the second overall pick. The 26-year-old Williams is known as one of League's premier assist men, having tallied 57 helpers as part of his 89 career points (16g, 57a) in 143 games during his seven-year MLS career. After signing with the Fire just prior to the 2003 MLS campaign, the Jamaican international went on to lead the Fire in assists during both his seasons in Chicago, notching seven helpers in 2003 and nine during the 2004 campaign. While with the Fire, Williams registered 28 points on six goals and 16 assists in 45 games (40 starts), which included 17 points (4g, 9a) in 2004 - the second-highest total on the squad. Williams has also proved his worth on the international stage, having scored 13 goals in 83 games for the Jamaican National Team, including the Reggae Boyz' lone score in last Wednesday's 1-1 draw with the Unites States in the final match of the semifinal round of CONCACAF region qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. ReAL Salt Lake will be Wililams' sixth tour of duty inside America's top-flight league, after having also suited up for the Columbus Crew (1998-99), Miami Fusion FC (2000), New England Revolution (2001-02), MetroStars (2002) and the Fire (2003-04). After Williams' selection the Fire was allowed to protect one of its exposed players, and the club chose to protect veteran D/M Evan Whitfield, who is one of only eight players to have played at least 100 matches in a Fire uniform.
After choosing Los Angles Galaxy forward Arturo Torres with the first overall selection in the draft, CD Chivas USA looked to the Midwest for its next player and chose Perez with its second pick (3rd overall). The move to the Los Angeles area will be a homecoming for the 27-year-old Perez, who was born in the Southern California community of Pomona and lists nearby Fontana as his hometown. After being acquired from D.C. United in a trade on July 18, 2002, Perez was a steady influence on the left side for the Fire in his two and a half seasons for the club, during which the left-sided specialist appeared in 49 contests, including 40 starts. Perez scored five points with the "Men in Red" - the only five of his 98-match career - on a pair of goals and an assist. In 2004, Perez overcame a nagging lower back injury that plagued him throughout the preseason and much of the early months of the season to play in 17 contests (13 starts), in which he registered one point on the first assist of his MLS career. Having seen another member of its side taken away, the club chose to protect midfielder Scott Buete, Chicago's first round selection in last January's MLS SuperDraft.
Real Salt Lake again went to the Fire to bolster its roster for its second selection, plucking Countess away from Chicago's crowded stable of goalkeepers. The 22-year-old Countess was acquired from the Dallas Burn last February to compete for the Fire's starting spot, but the talented young netminder found himself backing up Henry Ring for most of the 2004 MLS campaign. Despite his youth, the recent Nike Project-40 Program graduate is a veteran of the League, having started in all 27 matches during his four-year MLS career, in which he has compiled a 1.93 GAA, 6-16-5 record and two shutouts. In 2004, Countess started in his lone two appearances for Chicago in MLS play, posting a 1-1-0 record and an even 2.00 GAA. While Salt Lake City might be new territory for the Sacramento, CA native, his new coach will be quite familiar, as Countess has worked with Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger during his time in the U.S. Men's Youth National Team program.
After seeing three of its unprotected players chosen after the Countess selection, the three remaining exposed players - goalkeeper Henry Ring, midfielder Alex Boucicaut and forward Dipsy Selolwane - automatically became protected per the rules of the Expansion Draft. The Fire will retain the rights of the unprotected players for the duration of their contracts with Major League Soccer.