Fire rookies getting their defensive reps

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- It was not the original intention for the Chicago Fire to start their 2010 MLS SuperDraft second- through fourth-round selections in back-to-back matches with a month remaining in the regular season.

But with the Fire's playoff situation nearly in the dust, this team needs to look toward its future. There is no better place to start than the defense that anchors this squad.

Fourth-round selection Sean Johnson has become a fixture in the goal for the past 12 matches. Third-round pick and right defensive back Steven Kinney has shown some improved consistency through 10 games and seven starts, netting his first MLS goal against the San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday. And second-rounder Kwame Watson-Siriboe has played with aggressive muscle at center back, earning five starts this year.

It wasn't the smoothest of two-game stretches as the rookie class garnered some reps, but the past week was invaluable experience. The Fire had a 3-0 win over San Jose last week, then were dealt a 3-0 loss to a strong FC Dallas side on Saturday.

"It's definitely a great learning experience," Kinney said following Tuesday's training. "In San Jose we came out with a different energy, and then the next game it was just the other end of the spectrum. You've got to take it in stride and hopefully finish the rest of the season strong."

When the Fire host the Columbus Crew on Friday, it would be surprising to see the full rookie trio back out there together. But head coach Carlos de los Cobos has thrown various lineups into the fray all season.

"It's very important to get reps going into next year," Watson-Siriboe said. "Carlos and the coaching staff have tried to get us more playing time to help us develop our game. As a rookie, you never expect to get as much playing time as the coaches have given us. It's still a learning process. There are a lot of veterans -- a lot of experienced players -- on our team helping to carry us through."

There were multiple situations throughout the Dallas match where both youth and veterans alike on the Fire side had their shortcomings. Watson-Siriboe had a moment in the first half that he would like to have back -- FC Dallas' first goal, in which his incorrect read eventually led to Milton Rodriguez's 19th-minute goal and game-winning tally.

"I actually anticipated Dasan [Robinson] getting it," Watson-Siriboe said. "I should have dropped behind him a little bit more just to give him that space. On that day it was my mistake. I should have read it a lot better. I wasn't able to react, and [Rodriguez] was able to get by."

But on the flip side, the San Jose match included a clean sheet and Kinney's first goal off of Freddie Ljungberg's corner kick from the right side. Both Kinney and Watson-Siriboe were in the heart of that attack.

"Freddie put in a perfect ball, and Kwame kind of set a little pick for me and I got to run off him," Kinney said. " Freddie put it right on the spot, and I was just fortunate to be in the right place."

"If I'm able to be used as a diversion so that Steven can get goals or other people on my team can get goals, that's amazing," Watson-Siriboe said. "Hopefully one of these days, Steven will pay me back and be used as a diversion so I can get my head on a goal, as well."

Veteran Fire center back C.J. Brown likes the potential in Kinney's and Watson-Siriboe's body of work thus far.

"I think they've done well when they've had their opportunities," Brown said. "They have a lot of potential for the next few years to be mainstays, if not starters in this group."

Brown thinks their raw talent is definitely there, and it is just a matter of Kinney and Watson-Siriboe going through the process of refining their talent with game-situational repetition.

"Kwame in the center is a beast," Brown said. "He's a good kid, he loves to win balls in the air and he's hard to beat. If he continues being a monster in the back, starts to read and communicate, he's going to be very solid. Steve, he can drive the ball well and he likes to get up and down the flanks. He's starting to get comfortable on the outside.

"There's a lot of potential," he said. "What you like about them is that they have an exciting attitude for their first year."