Draft represents blip on Fire's busy agenda

The Chicago Fire's offseason had been incredibly quiet before Tuesday's signings of midfielder Daniel Paladini and defender Josip Mikulic.

The Fire have plenty of work to do in molding the pieces for their 2011 squad, and one outlet is through this Thursday's MLS SuperDraft at the Baltimore Convention Center (11 a.m. CT start, televised on ESPN2).

"We've lost players in every line, so we need to address all three areas," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. "Depending on who is selected before the ninth pick, that can dictate whether we'll pick in the front or the back. There are a lot of good players, and we've seen them play live, even before coming to the combine."

In this year's draft, the Fire have the ninth overall selection in the first round and also have three picks in the third round (45th, 49th and 51st overall). Having just signed Mikulic and picking up center back Cory Gibbs in the re-entry draft, the defensive side of the ball looks to have the least amount of holes. That was -- and to a lesser extent still is -- an area of concern with the Fire losing their two starting center backs in C.J. Brown (retirement) and Wilman Conde (signed with Atlas).

With a top-10 pick, the Fire should target the offensive side of the ball with their first selection. Brian McBride retired, the Fire parted ways with Collins John, and aside from McBride's meager six goals, not a single Chicago forward contributed more than three goals during the 2010 season.

Akron forward Darlington Nagbe is considered the top attacking option in this year's draft as he and Akron midfielder/defender Perry Kitchen are expected to be the two top selections. Indiana's Will Bruin also could be out of the Fire's reach. But there is a possibility that Omar Salgado (U.S. U-20s), Corey Hertzog (Penn State) or Victor Estupinan (Liga de Quito) could be available for the Fire's taking.

Last year, Chicago's late draft selections turned out to be high points during the Fire's disappointing season. Defender Steven Kinney (third round, 45th overall) showed promise on the pitch as he solidified his spot as the team's right back. And Sean Johnson (fourth round, 51st overall) took hold of the No. 1 goalkeeper slot and currently is training with the U.S. National Team in preparation for a Jan. 22 match against Chile.

"I'm very happy for Sean. It's well deserved for him, for him to keep growing as a player," Klopas said of Johnson's call-up to the U.S. squad. "This is going to be great for him mentally, and it will be good for his confidence. He has a bright future. This camp is good for him to compete with some other goalkeepers and gauge yourself, see where you stand with some of those guys."

The Fire missed the postseason last year for only the second time in the organization's history, and a great deal of work needs to be implemented to return this team into the playoff-bound squad that Chicago fans are accustomed to.

"The expectations are high," Klopas said. "We're in Chicago. We have a team and an owner who are very supportive and committed. But it doesn't put any extra pressure. I want to win just as bad as anyone -- we're all competitive people. We've done a lot of work, seen a lot of games, and we're going through the right process. Sometimes things don't work out. We're making sure this team is back in the playoff picture."

The team also will be monitored closely now that Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos has had a full season under his belt.

"Carlos is in a different place from the beginning," Klopas said. "He knows the league and the players now, and we're trying to bring in good soccer players to help on the field. One year in, he definitely knows the league better. We made some decisions last year, and not all of the decisions added up. At the end of the day, it's about getting the results."