In an appropriate twist to this year’s SuperDraft, the Fire became the first team in MLS to have the amount of Allocation Money acquired via trade announced publicly. Chicago cashed in for the third overall pick in the Draft by sending the selection to New York City FC in exchange for $250,000.00 in General Allocation Money. The league will now apparently publish GAM/TAM amounts in trade announcements.
New York City FC selected Akron forward Jonathan Lewis with the pick. Lewis had a brief stint in the Fire Academy system but did not qualify for a HomeGrown deal. The Fire have added a considerable amount of Allocation Money via the trade.
“We had discussed a lot of different scenarios in advance of the Draft,” said General Manager Nelson Rodriguez of the trade. “We had a group of players that we liked. We explored a lot of different options in the days leading to the Draft. We had explored a purchase of another pick in the top ten, so that we would have number three and another selection. We had explored trading down from three, swapping spots and adding resources. We had also discussed making a selection. In the end, we feel that the money we were able to procure via General Allocation puts us in a better position to try to close one of these targets that we have had for several weeks.”
The money can be used to either add another player or buy-down a current player to add a higher level reinforcement.
“That’s the beauty of General Allocation Money. I call it the swiss army knife of resources in MLS,” said Rodriguez. “We can use it to acquire players within the league or we can use it to buy-down salaries against the team’s budget. In the end, we’re hopeful now that this will enable us to close the final gap and final offer.”
With the eleventh pick in the Draft, the Fire passed on adding a right back and instead opted for Louisville’s Daniel Johnson. The 5′-9″, right footed midfielder impressed during the Combine this week and said following the Draft that he was hoping to land in Chicago.
“I listed Chicago as one of my favorite interviews and I was hoping that I would end up there,” said Johnson after being selected by the Fire. “There were a few meetings that stuck out and Chicago was one that I remember the entire meeting. It felt like they had tailored their questions to me and had done their research and had done a fair amount of scouting me. They were able to not just stick to a template of a generic interview. Some teams approach the interview process with that style.”
Johnson comes to MLS after transferring from the University of Maryland to Louisville because the “system” was a better fit for him. He also spent 3-1/2 years overseas training with West Ham’s Academy but could not sign with the club due to work permit issues. “I learned so much about myself when I went over there at 14 (years old),” said Johnson. “I was over without parents and had to mature at an alarming rate in order to survive and be successful.”
“On the field, it was incredible to be in that sort of environment, learn everyday, and be around pros being really a young pro, because that’s what it takes to make it there. In meetings with West Ham and meetings with the coaching staff, a lot of the comparisons made (were to) Joe Cole when he was younger. It felt like I was on that trajectory and had the skill set that Joe Cole had coming up.”
The inability to land a work permit halted that dream and Johnson returned to the States. “Having that opportunity taken away from me by factors outside of my ability on the field was devastating. That experience and dealing with that adversity taught me so much about how I deal with adversity. Everyone has a different path to their goals, and it’s not always clear cut.”
Johnson also said he sees himself as a versatile wide attacker. “I’m comfortable on the left. I’m right-footed but I like to drift in and find pockets. As far as an opportunity to play on the right, I’m comfortable on the wing, playing more of an inverted game on the left but also being able to do some of the things that a traditional winger does if I’m deployed on the right.” Johnson also said that he started playing on the wings in the last few years after growing up playing in the “10” spot.
Rodriguez said Johnson gives them a player with qualities different from those on the team now. He believes Johnson can back-up David Accam on the left side or slide inside as more of a playmaker.
The Fire weren’t done on the day.
Without a pick in the second round, they traded $75,000.00 in Targeted Allocation Money to Toronto FC in exchange for the 26th and 27th overall picks.
The Fire used the first pick to select a teammate of Johnson, Louisville goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland. He will likely round out the Fire’s goalkeeping corps with Jorge Bava and Matt Lampson going into camp.
The next choice landed University of Delaware forward Guillermo Delgado, who grew up in Spain and has been described as a “quicker Michael de Leeuw” type of player. Delgado will occupy an international roster spot if he makes the club.
Rodriguez wasn’t concerned about Delgado’s international status. “We believe that this is a very good player. A player who is dynamic off the ball. A player who knows how to find space and how to exploit it. A proven finisher and he has good pedigree, having been educated in Spain,” he said. The Fire will speak to Delgado about the possibility of a green card application in the coming days.
Rodriguez said he’s not likely to look within the league for a right back. “We’re aware of where our overall roster is,” he said. “In the end, we felt that DJ suggested a little bit of special talent, so we wanted to grab that. In the second round, we felt that the trade with Toronto enabling us to get (Cleveland and Delgado) were better moves. We still have options at right back. We have Michael Harrington. We have Johan, who can play there. We’ve spoken to some folks outside the league and we still have two more rounds of this Draft next week.”
The Fire hold the 47th and 69th overall picks when the SuperDraft resumes on Tuesday.