The Chicago Fire U-16 Academy side landed in Houston Monday morning to finish their final preparations for Tuesday night’s U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Finals opener vs. Charlotte Soccer Academy (Follow @ChiFireMatch at 8pm CT).
Coming off the heels of a successful regular season campaign in which the team went 18-3-5 overall and won the Great Lakes Division title, the U-16s advanced to the finals by virtue of their 3-0-0 record at last month’s national playoffs in Frisco, Texas.
Last week head coach Larry Sunderland (right) took the squad through a three-day mini-camp in South Bend, Ind. It was there that the longtime Fire developmental coach took more confidence heading into this week’s matches.
“They were pretty sharp last week,” Sunderland told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. “The attitude and intensity was good. We did a double session on Wednesday and then single sessions on Thursday and Friday. Coming back, we were excited to get down to Houston.”
Two players that Charlotte and other group opponents Red Bull New York and Pateadores will likely key in on are forward Jeff Farina and midfielder Marcus Epps after the pair combined to tally all nine Fire goals (five and four respectively) last month in wins over Clearwater Chargers (4-2), Seattle Sounders FC (3-0) and Real Salt Lake-AZ (2-1).
“They were in pretty good form in Dallas and took their chances pretty well. Marcus [Epps] is very good on the ball and good at taking guys on. He’s explosive and can finish off plays and can open up space for other people by drawing coverage. Jeff [Farina] is a great target guy for us, he holds up the ball well and has a pretty good nose for goal.”
Having led the U-16 Academy side which featured current Fire first teamer Victor Pineda to the 2010 U.S.S.D.A. championship, Sunderland is well-versed in this stage of the tournament and says he’s drawn on that experience as he returns to the finals this year.
“I look at positive comparisons between the two groups. It’s a good motivator for them. I can find those similarities and build on those with these guys. I can warn them of where we haven’t lived up to our own expectations, and about not becoming complacent.
“When it comes down to preparation and rhythm, having been here before helps us from a coaching standpoint with planning. We know what we’re here to do. It’s certainly no vacation for the guys so we’re going to get after it in a very professional manner. From that standpoint, we’ll definitely draw on our successes from the past.”
The U-16 Academy side will begin its quest for a second U.S.S.D.A. title Tuesday night at 8pm CT when they face Charlotte Soccer Academy at Houston Amateur Sports Park. Follow the game LIVE via @ChiFireMatch