This year’s class of hopefuls for MLS SuperDraft 2018 presented by adidas are hard at work this week, aiming to make a final favorable impression on technical staffs around the league through their performances on the field and during in-person interviews at the MLS Combine in Orlando.
Ultimately, the first official steps in their pro soccer careers may be known by this Friday; or, they may not. MLS SuperDraft 2018 begins Friday (10 a.m. CT, Chicago-Fire.com) in Philadelphia, Pa., with Rounds 1 and 2 occurring on-site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. As in past years, Rounds 3 and 4 will be held via teleconference on Sunday (Jan. 21).
Fire GM Nelson Rodríguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic are entering their third MLS SuperDraft at the helm of Chicago’s soccer operations, and are doing so from a markedly different position than in previous years.
After heading into Draft day with the No. 1 overall selection in 2016 and No. 3 in 2017, the Fire will -- barring any potential trades -- wait until pick No. 15 to announce their first-round choice on Friday, and are currently slated to again be on the clock at No. 38 (Round 2) and No. 84 (Round 4). Chicago dealt its true third-round pick (No. 61) to Portland in the deal that brought recently re-signed goalkeeper Richard Sanchez to the Windy City.
While Rodríguez, Pauno and their managerial counterparts around the league have at least a semblance of an idea for the scenarios that could unfold in Philadelphia, the aspiring pros who’ve worked tirelessly to reach this point are often flying blind as to the club and city they could call home as soon as the following week. From earning an invite to the Combine, to the anticipation of Draft day, to embarking on a new challenge, the winter months are typically a rollercoaster of emotion for a talented crop of collegiate products.
“Just seeing my name on the combine list gave me a sense of relief and excitement about being invited and getting to be a part of something as cool as MLS Combine,” said Fire midfielder Brandt Bronico, whom Chicago selected out of UNC Charlotte in the third round of the 2017 SuperDraft. “I had an extra couple days to continue the nerves and when I saw my name pop up on the computer and receiving the call from the Fire, I was overjoyed and excited to have the opportunity to live out my dream of becoming an MLS player.”
Two 2016 first-round selections -- Brandon Vincent (No. 4) and Jonathan Campbell (No. 12) -- have been mainstays on the Fire back line over the last two seasons, often lining up alongside fellow SuperDraft first-rounder Matt Polster (2015, No. 7). Any current candidates taking their cues from that group of Draft veterans can expect a mix of emotions before, during and after the big day.
“I remember feeling super anxious and excited with all the commotion going on,” Campbell said. “After my name was called, I had a flood of emotions, a slight second of relief and then remembering that I had to go up and give a speech on the Draft floor.”
As he is this month, Vincent was across the country in Los Angeles at U.S. Men’s National Team January camp when the Fire made the highly touted Stanford product the fourth overall pick two winters ago.
“After hearing my name, I felt a huge sense of relief, excitement, and desire to get started with the team as soon as possible,” Vincent remembered. “I felt humbled and grateful knowing that I now had the opportunity to live the dream of becoming a professional athlete.”
With the advantage of hindsight, those who’ve lived the Draft-day experience had some valuable insights to share with those hoping to launch their MLS careers this weekend.
“One piece of advice I’d give to everyone entering the draft is to stay positive and stay focused on your next opportunity,” said Bronico, now on the cusp of his sophomore campaign in Chicago. “It doesn’t matter when you get picked but when you get the opportunity to have that tryout with an MLS team, you want to be focused, you want to be positive, and you want to make the most of it. So definitely don’t worry about when you get picked, just worry about making the most of the opportunity when it presents itself.”
Vincent’s suggestion was similarly on-point.
“Enjoy every moment of the process,” he said, “and give special thanks to those that have been there to support you throughout your journey.”