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updated: 1/12/2012 5:51 PM

Fire goes for defense in MLS draft

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  • Austin Berry

      Austin Berry

  • Lucky Mkosana

      Lucky Mkosana

  • Hunter Jumper

      Hunter Jumper

 
 

In an offensive-leaning draft the Chicago Fire bolstered its defense.

The Fire used the No. 9 pick to obtain University of Louisville defender Austin Berry in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft first round.

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"He's just a solid performer," Fire coach Frank Klopas said of Berry, calling him the best available player and the best center back in the draft. "He's a winner."

The Fire has to hope Berry's next steps are better than his first with the club. Berry tripped going up the steps to the podium to meet MLS commissioner Don Garber at the draft in Kansas City just after being picked. He recovered nicely, joking about it later.

"I was too overly excited," Berry said via conference call. "My first play as a Chicago Fire defender I tripped on the last step of the stage."

But that maturity to laugh at his misstep was one of the things that attracted the Fire to Berry, 23, who played on the Fire's Premier Development League team and practiced some with the first team.

"Austin Berry is a player we know very well," Klopas said.

Berry is projected as ready to play in MLS as a rookie. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he describes himself as strong in the air and a hard-worker. Klopas sees him as a good man-marker who "can have an impact on our team right off the bat."

"I can adapt to whatever the team's needs are," Berry said.

The first seven teams in the draft went with a forward or midfielder, starting with Montreal taking Duke's Andrew Wenger, the Hermann Trophy winner who can also play defender. Forwards Ethan Finley and Chandler Hoffman were available at No. 9 when Chicago's turn came. But the Fire opted to add depth at center back behind starters Cory Gibbs, 32 on Saturday, and last year's first-round pick, Jalil Anibaba. The Fire also still has Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta on its roster at center back.

In the second round the Fire drafted speedy Zimbabwean forward Lucky Mkosana out of Dartmouth with the 23rd overall pick. Mkosana, who holds a green card so will not be counted as an international player on the roster, scored 34 goals in 73 appearances for Dartmouth.

The Fire got left back Hunter Jumper of Virginia at No. 28 of the two-round draft to back up Gonzalo Segares, a role held last season by open tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos, a former prep star at Prospect High School.

The players report to Toyota Park next week before departing for preseason training.

The draft was part of a busy week for the Fire, which earlier announced the signings of Colombian midfielder Rafael Robayo and Uruguayan forward Federico Puppo.

The Fire also hopes to sign midfielder Pavel Pardo very soon.

"I feel very confident in saying that when we start camp Pavel will be with the team," Klopas said.

Local connections:

Three Chicago-area players also went in the draft. Andrew Duran of Mokena was the first, going at No. 15 to Seattle. Naperville's Brendan King, a midfielder from Notre Dame, went to Portland at No. 27 overall. At No. 37, Naperville's Greg Jordan went to Philadelphia from Creighton University.

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports via Twitter @orrinsoccer.

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