28 June 9:12 am

U-18s Have Nothing to Lose in Today’s Group Final vs. Home-Standing Solar SC

The Fire U-18s had the day off Wednesday to rest and prepare for this morning’s tournament finale vs. group leaders Solar Chelsea SC. The Dallas-based side leads the group with six points from two matches and needs just a draw in this morning’s game to advance to next month’s national finals.

The plot is much more difficult for the Fire, who have gone 1-1-0 through the first two and need a 3-0 win over Solar combined with Concorde Fire not winning by four or more goals over Alberston SC.

“We have our game plan in place”, said Sunderland. “The team knows we have a bit job ahead of us this morning and this group has long done well to make things interesting for themselves. This could be the last match with the Fire Academy for some of these guys and I don’t think they want that.”

Follow live updates of today’s U-18 group finale vs. Solar Chelsea FC can be found @ChiFireMatch beginning at 11am CT. 

U-16s Down Seattle Sounders FC 3-0 Wednesday to go 2-0-0 in Group 4

The Chicago Fire U-16s took a giant step towards a place in the Development Academy national finals Wednesday night with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC Academy in Frisco, Texas.

For the second game in a row it was Jeff Farina who opened the scoring for the Fire as Colin Fernandez cut in from the left side to feed the forward who slotted the ball back across goal in the 20th minute.

The Fire would make it 2-0 in the 31st minute when Martin Alba sent a ball from the left to Farina who then floated it back over Sounders FC keeper Connor Adkisson and into the back of the net.

Having already put their mark on the match, the Fire would ice the game in the 52nd minute when Christian Hennock’s cross from the right found Marcus Epps at the top of the 18. The Mississippi Fire Juniors product sent a bending, one-time chip to the bottom right corner to end the scoring at 3-0.

Farina (four) and Epps (three) have combined for all seven of the team’s goals at the tournament.

With the win, the Fire sit tied atop Group 4 on six points with Real Salt Lake Arizona who downed Clearwater Chargers 4-1 in Tuesday’s other match. Though the teams sit tied with a +5 goal difference, RSL-AZ holds the second tie breaker, having scored eight goals to the Fire’s seven.

What does that all mean? Friday’s group finale between the squads is purely a “win and you’re in” scenario for the Fire while a draw would be enough for RSL to advance to the national finals. The game kicks off at 9am CT Friday, with LIVE updates @ChiFireMatch.  

“The 16s are feeling pretty good right now,” said Academy Director Larry Sunderland. “I felt before the tournament that this team might peaking just at the right time. We know what we have to do in Friday’s match and we know it will be much more difficult than the first two. RSL is a residency program which brings in players from throughout the country but we think we match up well with them.”

6/25 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Concorde Fire (GA) 1-2 L
6/26 4:00pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Clearwater Chargers (FL) 4-2 W
6/26 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Albertson SC (NY) 2-1 W
6/27 6:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Seattle Sounders FC (WA) 3-0 W
6/28 11:00am CT Chicago Fire U-18 Solar Chelsea SC (TX) @ChiFireMatch
6/29 9:00am CT Chicago Fire U-16 Real Salt Lake (AZ) @ChiFireMatch


27 June 9:15 am

U-16s Open with 4-2 Win Over Clearwater

Tuesday was the Chicago Fire Academy’s busiest day at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs in Frisco, Texas as both the U-16 and U-18 sides were in action and came away victorious to keep hopes of advancement to next month’s national finals alive.
In the mid-afternoon 100+ Texas heat, the U-16 Academy opened their playoff run with a 4-2 victory over Clearwater Chargers (FL) in a match that saw the two sides trade the first four goals back and forth. 
Dealing with the weather conditions, the Fire went ahead 1-0 when Mississippi Fire Juniors product Marcus Epps fed Jeff Farina through in the 12th minute. Seven minutes later Clearwater would respond of what was described by Fire Academy Director Larry Sunderland as “a long bomb”.
The Fire would get a bomb of their own from Epps on a 25-yard effort that screamed inside the bottom right corner in the 34th but Clearwater would again respond two minutes later to take things to 2-2.
“The heat here is incredible and is having a great effect on the play,” said Sunderland. “Through the first two goals, it looked as if both teams were playing five men on each side off the field and not playing with any type of midfield. We both looked tired 20 minutes into an 80-minute match.”
Luckily for the Fire, the team pulled away just before the half when AJ Jeffries slotted Farina into the box with a diagonal ball and the striker coolly finished for his second of the night in the 39th minute. Just after the break, Christian Henock was chopped down in the area to draw a penalty kick which Epps stepped up and finished in the 43rd.
With a two-goal lead in hand and taking advantage of a tired Clearwater team, the Fire possessed throughout the rest of the second half to kill of the game and take a 4-2 opening victory. With the result, the U-16s sit tied on three points with Real Salt Lake Arizona atop Group 4 who scored a matching 4-2 victory Tuesday over Seattle Sounders FC. 
The U-16s will look to move to six points when they take on Sounders FC at 6:30pm CT tonight in Frisco, Texas. Follow the game LIVE @ChiFireMatch
U-18s Leave it Late to Rebound from Opening Defeat 2-1 over Albertson
In what was another physical match against a bigger opponent, a smaller Fire U-18s side earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Albertson SC (New York) to keep their hopes for advancement to the National Finals alive Tuesday night.
Knowing the team needed a victory, the U-18s braved the heat, spreading the ball around to create opportunities but Albertson, who dropped their initial match 4-1 to Solar Chelsea Monday night resorted to long-ball and physical tactics to keep things scoreless at the break.
The Fire pressed the issue in the match after the break and thought they’d earned a sure penalty in the 72nd minute when forward Andrew Oliver navigated through three defenders into the box before being shoved from behind but no call was given.
The situation would be resurrected five minutes later when Manny Rios received the ball on the right and entered the box on the run before being hauled down. 
Fire midfielder Victor Pineda stepped up to the penalty spot and channeling Andrea Pirlo on Sunday, cheekily chipped his penalty effort right down the middle and just over the line to give the team a 1-0 lead.
“At that point in the match, when we’d played better soccer and things hadn’t been called, I didn’t mind Victor making a statement with his penalty,” said Sunderland. “We know Victor’s abilities and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the club to have a player with the confidence in himself to do something like that.”
The Fire would stave off an equalizer in the 82nd minute when defender Dan Lojek cleared a ball off the line but Albertson would equalize in the 87th. 
Staring elimination in the face, late second half sub Manny Chavez would find the stoppage time winner for the Fire when he picked up a loose ball 25-yards out of the box and sent a looping effort that tucked inside the bottom right corner to clinch a 2-1 victory.
“The 18s haven’t played our best soccer of late but Tuesday night it felt we got our game back a little bit,” continued Sunderland. “Guys are excited and feel good about having to get three goals on Thursday.”
Sunderland refers to the scenario by which the U-18 side would find its way to the top of the group after Solar Chelsea defeated the Concorde Fire 2-0 in the day’s other group match. The Fire would need to defeat the Dallas-based club in the group finale Thursday at 11am CT (LIVE @ChiFireMatch) and hope Concorde doesn’t win by four clear goals in their finale vs. Albertson.
“I told them last night, since we’ve had these guys when they were 15 and 16, they always liked to make things interesting on themselves. We’ve scored three goals before and Solar’s given up three goals – we have nothing to lose on Thursday.”
6/25 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Concorde Fire (GA) 1-2 L
6/26 4:00pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Clearwater Chargers (FL) 4-2 W
6/26 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Albertson SC (NY) 2-1 W
6/27 6:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Seattle Sounders FC (WA) @ChiFireMatch
6/28 11:00am CT Chicago Fire U-18 Solar Chelsea SC (TX) @ChiFireMatch
6/29 9:00am CT Chicago Fire U-16 Real Salt Lake (AZ) @ChiFireMatch


26 June 8:58 am

When you haven’t lost a game in 21 matches and the bulk of your team was the one that took a Development Academy national title in 2010, its fair to say you have a target on your back.

This was the case in the Fire U-18 Academy’s 2-1 loss to Concorde Fire (Ga.) to open the U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Playoffs Tuesday night in Frisco, Texas.

Playing in the 94-degree early summer heat in Dallas, the Fire U-18s nearly went up in the 10th minute when Andrew Oliver had an effort cleared off the line.

The team continued to possess throughout the first half and got what seemed a back-breaking goal just before the interval. A long sequence of passes led to Oliver sliding Luis Barajas through the Concorde backline before the winger placed his shot past the opposing ‘keeper to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute.

The goal didn’t put the physically more dominant Georgian side down however as a scramble off a 35-yard free kick led to the equalizer in the 69th minute. Nineteen minutes later, a similar sequence off a free kick from nearly the same spot saw Concorde steal a late goal to upset the top-ranked Fire U-18s, 2-1.

“We didn’t play a complete 90 minutes,” Fire Academy Director Larry Sunderland said following the match. “It never fails – when you cheat yourselves a little bit, it catches you. That’s what happened here.

“Concorde is a team we were going to have trouble with because they’re big, physical, direct and we’re a smaller team. Aside from those free kicks, they didn’t threaten us much but the muscle they play with kept them in the game. Credit to them for the win.”

With the gauntlet laid down and Solar Chelsea’s (Texas) 4-1 drubbing of Albertson SC (NY) Tuesday night, the Fire U-18s now have no more room for error and will likely need a little help in their remaining group matches. They also have little time to recover as their second game of the tournament comes tonight against Albertston at 8:30pm CT (LIVE on @ChiFireMatch).

While the U-18s prepare for another primetime match, their U-16 brethren will take their opening bow of the competition later this afternoon when they face Clearwater Charges (Florida) at 4pm CT (LIVE on @ChiFireMatch).

With the following two group matches coming against fellow MLS Academy sides Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake Arizona, a win Tuesday afternoon is considered key to advancement from the group. 

6/25 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Concorde Fire (GA) 1-2 L
6/26 4:00pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Clearwater Chargers (FL) @ChiFireMatch
6/26 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Albertson SC (NY) @ChiFireMatch
6/27 6:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Seattle Sounders FC (WA) @ChiFireMatch
6/28 11:00am CT Chicago Fire U-18 Solar Chelsea SC (TX) @ChiFireMatch
6/29 9:00am CT Chicago Fire U-16 Real Salt Lake (AZ) @ChiFireMatch


25 June 9:24 am

Its playoff time! No, Doc Brown hasn't taken you in a Delorean to early November, rather, today kicks off the 2012 U.S. Soccer Development Academy postseason at the FC Dallas training complex in Frisco, Texas. 

Having finished the 2011-12 USSDA Regular Season as the top ranked team in the nation, the Fire U-18 squad begins its bid for a place at next month's Finals Week in Houston tonight when they take on the Concorde Fire (Georgia) tonight at 8:30pm CT. 

A bulk of the current squad were part of the club's 2010 U-16 National Championship team and have gone on to impress again this season with an 18-2-3 overall record. After last losing their first two matches of the season, the team is riding a 21-match unbeaten streak into this week's round-robin tournament and will be bolstered by current first teamers Victor Pineda and Kellen Gulley (pictures left and right above).

Having finished the regular season sixth in the nation, U-16 Academy side kicks off its bid for Houston Tuesday afternoon when they take on the Clearwater Chargers (Florida) at 4pm CT. 

Fire fans can follow all six of the club's U16 and U18 Academy matches this week LIVE via @ChiFireMatch (see full schedule below) and here on Always on the Inside, we'll have daily updates on how both squads are doing this week in Frisco!

6/25 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Concorde Fire (GA) @ChiFireMatch
6/26 4:00pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Clearwater Chargers (FL) @ChiFireMatch
6/26 8:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-18 Albertson SC (NY) @ChiFireMatch
6/27 6:30pm CT Chicago Fire U-16 Seattle Sounders FC (WA) @ChiFireMatch
6/28 11:00am CT Chicago Fire U-18 Solar Chelsea SC (TX) @ChiFireMatch
6/29 9:00am CT Chicago Fire U-16 Real Salt Lake (AZ) @ChiFireMatch


19 June 2:32 pm

The Chicago Fire U16 and U18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy sides are good. Both sides concluded the 2011/12 regular season on Sunday at Indiana Fire Academy with the U16s taking a 2-2 draw and the U18s a 3-1 victory. 

Both results helped keep the sides first in the Great Lakes Division with the U18s going 13-0-3 (18-2-3 overall) and the U-16s going 11-1-4 (15-3-5 overall) on the campaign.
With the finish, the U18s also remained the number one ranked team in the country while the U16s finished fifth in the nation -- both are the top ranked MLS Academy in their age group with the next being the LA Galaxy (#4 at U18 and #8 at U16).
Yesterday, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the draw for the 2012 Developmental Academy playoffs, set to begin Monday, June 25 in Frisco, Texas. See the results below...
Group 7
Chicago Fire (Bridgeview, Ill.)
Solar Chelsea SC (Dallas, Texas)
Albertson SC (Great Neck, N.Y.)
Concorde Fire (Atlanta, Ga.)
Group 4
Chicago Fire (Bridgeview, Ill.)
Real Salt Lake AZ (Casa Grande, Ariz.)
Seattle Sounders FC (Tukwila, Wash.)
Clearwater Chargers (Clearwater, Fla.)
Only the top team from each group will advance to the Academy Finals week, set to be held in Houston, Texas from July 16-23.
Earlier Tuesday, Fire Academy Director Larry Sunderland took both sides to a mini-camp in South Bend, Ind. to prepare for next week's playoffs. Joining the teams in Indiana are first teamers and Academy eligible players Victor Pineda and Kellen Gulley.
Check Wednesday for an exclusive podcast interview with Sunderland about the team's progress heading into the postseason.