Fire PDL's Kirk Urso. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Camarati/UNC Athletic Communications

Fire's College Cup

As the 2010 NCAA College Cup, soccer’s version of the Final Four, kicks off in Santa Barbara on Friday night, the Chicago Fire will likely be the only MLS club with a rooting interest in all four teams: Akron, Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan.

Why?

Through the club’s PDL, Super-20 and Academy sides, the Fire have a player connection to all four schools participating in the national semi-finals and final of the collegiate tournament. I'm not sure, but think it's pretty likely that no other MLS team, let alone youth club, can claim this feat. 

In Friday’s first semifinal between #1 Louisville and #4 North Carolina (7:30pm CT on ESPN2 or ESPNU), the Chicago Fire Player Development department will be able to lay claim to four players in the match: North Carolina midfielder Kirk Urso as well as Louisville midfielders J.T. Murray (senior) and juniors Kenny Walker and Austin Berry. All four were part of this year’s Chicago Fire PDL team and Urso, a local product from Lombard, was part of the club’s Super-20 side which finished 2010 as North American semifinalists this past July.

The Tar Heels are appearing in their third-straight College Cup

In Friday’s other semifinal, #2 Akron will take on #10 Michigan (10pm CT on ESPN2 or ESPNU), with the club being able to claim three players in that matchup. Freshman midfielder Perry Kitchen and sophomore goalkeeper David Meves (photo right) both appeared for the PDL side this year, with Meves (Arlington Heights) also backstopping the Super-20’s to the North American semifinals in Rockford this past July.

Akron is appearing in their second-straight College Cup, they defeated North Carolina 5-4 on penalties in last year’s semifinal.

On the other side, with a team this writer has a rooting interest in is Wolverine junior midfielder Jarrett Kerr, who played for the Chicago Fire Academy from 2007-08. Though not a huge contributor for the Wolverines, Kerr did appear in the 3-1 Round of 16 win at #7 South Carolina on November 28, helping the side to its first-ever College Cup appearance in the program’s short 10-year history.

While North Carolina and Louisville haven’t met this season, Akron handily defeated Michigan 7-1 at home on October 19. Despite the result, this Wolverine alum has faith that Steve Burns’ team can continue their unprecedented run to Sunday’s championship match (3pm CT on ESPN2).

Predictions: Louisville 2, North Carolina 1; Michigan 3, Akron 2 (OT)

Final: Louisville 3, Michigan 2 

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall