The MLS SuperDraft will be held on Friday at 2pm CT and the Fire hold the 3rd, 11th, 47th and 69th picks. Nelson Rodriguez was very active last year while holding the first overall pick and he remains open to making moves again this season.
Rodriguez met with media via conference call this afternoon to discuss the SuperDraft, the offseason so far, and what the next few weeks may hold for the club.
Here's a full recap of the call"
Rodriguez on whether or not the Fire are close to signing another central midfielder
"No. I would say we're not. We continue to have dialogue. We continue to exchange ideas, proposals if you will, back and forth but I wouldn't say that anything is imminent."
Are negotiations more difficult than expected?
"No. These are generally complex matters. The players with whom we have interest have multiple suitors so there is always a process on both sides of evaluating options. The players in whom we have an interest, they are trying to discern between the various parties that have expressed a desire to acquire their services and for our part, we are always balancing the multiple targets and what it takes to acquire any one of them. At the moment, I would say it has gone along the path that we expected."
On international spots
"We are at eight. We have eight internationals currently on our roster. We're aware of the rules but we're prepared to deal with it, should the need arise."
On Polster's role this year
"I think Matt, and Juninho, and Drew Conner, and Collin Fernandez all have to compete to win the playing time. My expectation, after knowing Matt for a year, is that he will report to camp in great shape and with great spirits. He's a young man that's very confident in his abilities. He has already demonstrated himself to be a capable player in Major League Soccer. I think that a lot was expected of him last year, which may have been a little bit unfair because he still remains a young player in only his second year but I think he now understands what our environment is like. My expectation is that he will be a very key performer.
On additions to the squad outside of CM and the need for a "Boss"
"I think that Juninho and Nemanja Nikolic are going to add a great layer of leadership to our locker room. Both are champions. Both have a strong desire to win more titles. Both are prepared to assume leadership positions. Both are prepared to assume a mentorship position for some of our young players. That would at least give us voices in two-thirds of the field. I think that with Johan (Kappelhof), Joao (Meira), Jonathan (Campbell) having a second year together that their voice, whether collective or individually can start to emerge. I feel much, much better about finding this "boss" type personality and voice within the locker room. If we can add to it, we will. In terms of where else we'd like to see improvements in the roster, it's all over the field. We need to create a highly competitive environment where players have to understand that there are going to be people that want the spot in the eleven on a daily basis. If we look at just our forward line for a moment, with Niko, Michael, Lucho returning, and David Arshakyan returning, there's going to be a lot of competition for playing time there. We'd like to try to replicate that all over the field. I think that we could still use some central midfield players, like we said. We could also probably add one or two players along the back line."
On Homegrown Players
"Jonathan Lewis and Marcus Epps did not qualify as Homegrown Players on the basis of the rules that are established by Major League Soccer in relation to the amount of time that they have to be in your Academy or remain in your Academy in training days for those players to go to college. They were not eligible for Homegrown status. Both players have shown very well here at the Combine. Both players had very good college seasons and both players are very talented. With regards to Homegrown Players for whom we do have, if I could use the word control, Mauricio Pineda and Cameron Lindley, after discussions with and after discussions with their university and their families have decided to return to the University of North Carolina. Grant Lillard, after discussions with us and discussions with us and his collegiate coach, has decided to return to Indiana University for his final year at the university. We support these decisions. We actually believe that they are in fairly good environments. The coaching staffs at both UNC and IU do an excellent job and provide excellent coaching and excellent development. We have always viewed these decisions as needing to be family ones. These are decisions that can impact not just a career, but a life. We support those families decisions. We support those players. We have invited all three players to train with the first team this summer when their collegiate and student-athlete duties are completed for the academic year. We'll continue to work with their college coaches ensuring there's a comprehensive plan for their development."
"Andrew (Gutman is not a possibility for this year). Andrew decided early on in the process in my conversations with his collegiate coach, that he wanted to remain in school. We did not have a discussion with Andrew or his family at this time. I'll note that we believe there are many good environments in college. I know the trend, and the buzz, and the belief is that you have to be in the Academy or in the pro setting. I think that it's a case by case basis. Signing a contract does not make someone a professional . I think what makes someone a professional is their mentality and the fact that they understand what it means to be an athlete on a daily basis. Each individual player arrives at that decision at a different time. We don't believe in pressuring 18, 19, 20 year olds in making that decision. We commend all three of those young men for taking independent decisions that they believe are in the best interests for today. Some things that they may delay in acquiring by not being in a pro environment, they may get in other areas. Growth areas of independence. Becoming more self aware of how they are as young men and as aspiring pros. We feel good for them. At the end of their collegiate and academic seasons next December, we'll go back and speak to them again and see where their mind is."\
On Fire priorities in the SuperDraft
"We think this draft has several good players. There are interesting players. The roster that we have now has room in all lines to integrate at player of good quality. We're studying the situation and will consider all selections or will consider changes if we can."
"We have our plan built up for the SuperDraft. We have contingencies and we have options built with in that plan. We think there is a depth of talent that we feel very good about our selections at number 3 and number 11. We will consider all options made available to us. That might even include trading up or trading down."
On the internationals in the draft
"The number and quality of internationals in the SuperDraft is because of the success of MLS. There are young players in other parts of the world that are looking at MLS as their priority."
"That is in part a result of MLS Academy programs, where more domestic players are foregoing college or leaving college earlier, as a result the colleges in an effort to increase its standard and its level is recruiting more heavily in an international market. I also thinks it's a reflection of MLS being a league of choice and more international players recognizing that a good pathway to becoming a pro is by entering MLS, and by first going to college in America."
On international transfers
"We're talking with three separate players at the moment. We'll continue scouting and talking to people about other options for the remainder of January. We want the roster to be as complete as possible for the start of the season and not so much the first day of preseason."
"We're in active discussions with three players. We continue to scout. We continue to see what options may arise through the balance of January. Our goal is to have as close to a complete team by the start of the season, not necessarily by the start of training camp."
On Jorge Bava's addition
"We had a long list of goalkeeper candidates. Our goalkeeper coach, Aleksander Saric did a really good job of preparing that list and putting names in different buckets. We systematically went to see some of the goalkeepers play live. Pauno watched Bava play live twice. In our offseason they were still playing. We then received permission from the club to speak to the player directly. As I've said in the past, we value very much the individual that we're bringing into the locker room. We were impressed with his desire for this challenge and his understanding that he would have to earn his way. There is an element of risk here for Bava. He has a family and he's thirty-five years old. He's always been in Spanish speaking nations but he understood the challenge that we have of resurrecting our club. He wanted that challenge. He understood the challenge of Matt Lampson being here and having some time as a starter for the club and having greater familiarity. Frankly, we were motivated by that motivated by the fact that he understood that very well. Despite having offers from other teams in South America shows up."
On using an international spot on a goalkeeper
"Some of the characteristics that we are looking for in our goalkeeper are rarer among available American or domestic goalkeepers. We understood for some time that the likely solution that we sought was going to have to come from an international slot."
On green cards for current players
"We do have players that are pursuing green cards but that is impossible for us to project. That's a decision that's completely based by the US government. I can't put any time frame on those players that have initiated the process."
On impact of players under contract and being pursued for the 3rd pick
"It forces us to be constantly be reevaluating best player or greater need. Ultimately we're going to have to make a decision because the Draft is likely to come before we successfully close another player that we're trying to acquire. There is an impact. It's an inexact science. We also have to measure that we sit at 11, which is another favorable selection to have. If we opt to fill positional need at 3, do we hold our breath that perhaps a player that we may have ranked higher but had less of a need for is still there or vice-versa. I cannot say today that we've made our decision yet."
On drafted players contributing this year
"The truth is, that with both of our first round selections last year in Brandon (Vincent) and Jonathan (Campbell) we did not necessarily select them believing that they would become starters or be starters at all. Jonathan, in particular, we had a plan for him to be a third or fourth centerback - for him to be given the benefit or learning a position through watching, through practicing, through studying, through hoping to have a mentor for him. At half time of game one that plan went out the window and he played virtually every game and every minute thereafter. Having said that, Jonathan has to come in this year and compete with Joao and Johan and anyone else that we may add to reclaim that starting role. I would prefer for us to remain consistent, in that whomever we draft will be given the opportunity to play. We're going to continue to say this publicly and keep proving it in our decisions. Every day is an opportunity for a player to earn the coach's selection. Those players that we think give us the best chance to win a game are going to be the ones that play. If that's a young player coming out of the draft, so be it. We don't go into it with a preconceived notion other than our intention is to build competition on this roster for every spot. Such that trainings make us all better."
On HGP development
"There is a slight difference (for HGP's). We want to keep all our players in the same way. We want all our players to know that we care for them as people. When you are signing a Homegrown Player there is a little bit of a different level of commitment because of history, because there has been more significant investment made in that individual as a person and as a player over time. That said, I don't believe they get first team minutes. I think they have to earn them. We feel that game time is important and they haven't earned with the first team and we have to look at other options for them, whether those be friendlies, whether those be scrimmages, whether we look to loan them for long term periods of time or short term periods of time to other teams. With the Homegrown guys, even though there is a slight difference, they will not be given minutes. They have to earn them."