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Academy Teams Go 2-0-0 in Day 2 of USSDA National Playoffs

27 June 8:15 am

Academy Teams Go 2-0-0 in Day 2 of USSDA National Playoffs

By Jeff Crandall

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.”
DATE TIME CHICAGO FIRE OPPONENT FOLLOW/RESULTS
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