Fire Special in Ave Maria

Club runs clinics, player meet and greets this past weekend

A great part of the first team visiting CFJ-Florida here in Ave Maria is the ability to gain some high-level training with our Fire Camps and Training staff as well as allowing the members of our club here to meet the players, make a connection and gain inspiration towards one day becoming a professional themselves.

This past weekend the Chicago Fire, its official camps partner Youth Elite Soccer, held a Regional Talent School for CFJ-Florida players aged 8-18. Following their own training session Saturday morning, the 

participants were able to take in the last part of the first team’s own practice, before taking photos and getting autographs from the Men in Red.

“We think it’s important for kids in our club to have something to dream of,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas following Saturday’s session. “This is a big argument for MLS – to give kids heroes that they can learn from, relate and look up to.” 

Later Saturday afternoon in more specific age group clinics, first teamers Victor Pineda (right), Pari Pantazopoulos, Kellen Gulley and Austin Berry came back out to speak with the CFJ-Florida youths.

The four young players all had interesting insight to give.

The club’s first Home Grown signing, Pineda actually followed the same path the CFJ-Florida hopefuls he was speaking to hope to go down. The Bolingbrook, Ill. product spent six years in the Chicago Fire Juniors program before joining the club’s Academy in 2008.

“Follow your dreams always,” the midfielder said during a Q&A session with the youths. “I got here because I worked hard, stayed disciplined and tried to learn something new every time I stepped on the field.” 

A product of the club’s Juniors affiliate in Mississippi, Gulley is the best example of what kids associated with the Fire outside of the Chicago area can become. The club’s 2011 Open Tryout winner, Pantazopoulos emerged through preseason camp last season to sign a contract, while Berry was the team’s first round selection in this month’s MLS SuperDraft.

Following the events Saturday, members of the Fire staff took part with the CFJ-Florida entry in the annual Ave Maria Steak Cook-off before heading up to Ft. Myers on Sunday to take in the team’s first match of preseason, a 0-0 draw with DC United. 

The big event for both CFJ-Florida and Ave Maria comes when the Fire host Florida Gulf Coast University at the city’s North Park Wednesday night at 7pm ET/6pm CT, with over 1,000 fans expected to attend the match. Admission is free.

The team will continue to train this week in Ave Maria before departing for New Orleans, La. on Friday morning.

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire.