With the MLS offseason in full swing, it is time for one of the league’s oldest traditions to take place: the SuperDraft.
While the mechanism isn’t quite what it once was – most top domestic players now sign homegrown contracts before they are old enough to go to college – there are still plenty of important players who slip through the cracks. Several important contributors around the league came out of college soccer, and even if this year’s class is, once again, fairly unspectacular, there are surely players who could play a role next season in the pool. There are also many memories, some great, some not so great, that have come from the draft, and many fun facts that will be useful in MLS trivia several years down the line.
Here’s everything you need to know before the draft, which will commence at 2:00 PM Central Time today.
What picks do the Fire hold?
Most importantly, the Fire hold the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. Considering only a handful of players each year tend to be contributors on MLS rosters the following season, that may not sound like a lot, but the #6 pick has some great recent history. Last year, for instance, it was Creighton’s Duncan McGuire who was drafted sixth overall, and he went on to score 13 goals in MLS and enter the USMNT picture in 2023. Orlando City only received the sixth pick through a trade with Chicago of all teams as a part of the deal that saw Chris Mueller’s rights shipped to the Windy City. Mueller himself was actually the sixth overall pick in 2018 by Orlando after the Fire used the #5 pick that year to take Jon Bakero.
Several other meaningful players have come through that position recently, which oddly seems to have a better hit rate than most other slots in the top ten picks. Henry Kessler was selected sixth by New England in 2020, Griffin Dorsey by Houston in 2019, Jackson Yueill by San Jose in 2017, Fabian Herbers by Philadelphia in 2016, Alex Bono by Toronto in 2015, and digging into the history books, so were Dax McCarty (2006), Todd Dunivant (2003), Luchi González (2002), and Clint Mathis (1998).
Barring any late trades, the Fire will continue to hold on to their second and third round picks too, which are the 35th and 64th overall. It is unlikely anyone meaningful would come from that low on the board, but stranger things have certainly happened.
Will the Fire sign anyone from the draft?
History indicates no, but with a pick as high as #6, that could change. Since Georg Heitz took over as Sporting Director ahead of the 2020 season, just one player has been signed to a first team contract out of the SuperDraft, namely Kendall Burks in 2022, who was the 11th overall pick. Burks was let go after the 2023 season having failed to live up to his potential, though he did show some promise.
Nonetheless, the Fire are indeed lacking depth in several positions, and even if a potential draftee isn’t signed immediately to a first team deal, it would be shocking if they didn’t receive at least an MLS Next Pro contract. There is also a possibility that the Fire could draft a player who ends up playing elsewhere, as they did with Jackson Ragen in 2021, who was traded to his native Seattle for a 2023 draft pick (used on Billy Hency).
On the Fire II roster, a number of players came from college soccer. Most notably, Charlie Ostrem was the 33rd overall pick in 2022, and has become a regular for the second team, making a few first team bench appearances. Noah Egan was also drafted by the Fire last season in the third round, and signed with the second team. 2022 ACC Defender of the Year Andreas Ueland was drafted by New England but not signed, so he went on to sign a Next Pro contract in Chicago.
Who could the Fire pick?
It’s impossible to predict who will be selected in what order, and mock drafts are typically a fruitless endeavor, but there are a few players who Fire fans might want to keep an eye on ahead of the first round.
Once such name is Marshall winger Matthew Bell, who is likely to hear his name called fairly early in the first round. The Jamaican sophomore is one of the top players in college soccer, and was the star of the Thundering Herd, though his top-seeded team was upset in the round of 16 this year. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Kimani Stewart-Baynes could also be among the first picks after adding three goals and seven assists in his debut year for Maryland.
Another top prospect the Fire could choose is Georgetown sophomore Jacob Murrell. Though his status for next season is uncertain and he could remain a Hoya for another season, he is a raw talent who could provide depth to the Fire’s attack. Logan Farrington is another one to watch, and not only could the Oregon State forward emerge as an option for the #1 pick, but he could be the top pull from the draft. He led the Beavers to an unlikely College Cup semifinal appearance in 2023, and as a native of Racine, Wisconsin, he grew up not too far away from Chicago.
Burks, the only draftee the Fire have signed in the last four years, was a defender out of Washington. A similar story could emerge this time around too, as Huskies defender Nate Jones is among this year’s top prospects, and if he’s still available at #6, could represent a Rafa Czichos backup. Newly-crowned national champion Clemson were led by Pape Mar Boye in their back line, and he is a player with similar draft potential. His Tigers teammate, Hermann trophy finalist Ousmane Sylla, would be a first-rounder if he wasn’t expected to sign in Europe, much like previous champion Syracuse’s top defender, Olu Oyegungle. Syracuse’s other center back with potential, Buster Sjöberg, was drafted by Vancouver last year but elected to play an extra season in Orange due to a major injury that kept him out of the national title run.
Other players tipped by various mock drafts for a possible Fire pick include Jason Shokalook (Akron), Stephen Annor Gyamfi (Virginia), Kalani Kossi-Rienzi (Washington), Tyrese Spicer (Lipscomb), and Femi Awodesu (Penn State).
What players from Chicago are in the pool?
A handful of players from the Chicagoland area are in consideration to be drafted, and it’s possible the Fire could opt to use a pick on one of them, particularly in the later rounds where stakes are lower.
One such player is goalkeeper Bryan Dowd, who was Notre Dame’s starting goalkeeper as they made a national championship run. Dowd, who attended Fenwick High School, previously played with the Fire’s academy as well as FC United Chicago. He is also Notre Dame football’s third-string kicker. Tommy Mihalić is a name Chicago youth soccer followers will remember but haven’t heard in quite a while; he’s the star #10 for Indiana and is entered into this year’s draft following his junior season. He’s a six-time Croatia U-17 international, and a former FC United player as well.
There are only a handful of other Fire academy players in this class, with the others being goalkeeper Nathan Crockford (Wisconsin) and Sidney Paris (Wake Forest). Neither have any real shot of early picks, though Paris is a teammate of ex-Fire II midfielder Noeh Hernández with the senior Puerto Rican national team.
Louisville’s Axel Alejandre also sees his name entered in the draft pool. Still only a sophomore, he’s probably fairly low down the pecking order, but as a Chicago native and FC United alum, he screams third round Fire pick. Finally, projected top ten pick Joey Maher does hail from the state of Illinois, even if only barely. He is from Caseyville, near St. Louis, and following in the footsteps of his brother, Nashville’s Jack Maher, he also attends Indiana. At IU, Maher and Mihalić played alongside a handful of other Fire Academy players, including Brett Bebej and Luka Bezerra (brother of current Fire forward and former Hermann trophy winner at Indiana Victor Bezerra).
Draft details and how to watch
The 2024 SuperDraft will begin at 2 PM Central Time, and it will be streamed on Apple TV with the MLS Season Pass. Only the first round will be streamed, as the last two rounds will be conducted virtually behind closed doors.