Along with the Fire hosting the Philadelphia Union for Opening Night on Saturday, the club also welcomed a total of 35 representatives from the eight Fire Juniors affiliates across the country for this past weekend’s second annual Chicago Fire Juniors Summit at Toyota Park.
A key component of the club’s Player Development Department, the annual convergence of the eight Fire Juniors clubs that represent over 10,000 players across seven different states is important for many reasons according to Fire Juniors Affiliate Manager Brian Roberts.
“The focus of our summit is to educate our affiliates on the new initiatives set by the player development department at Toyota Park,” he told Chicago-Fire.com on Monday. “It also gives them an opportunity to network with one another and to pick up on areas of good practice on and off the field of play. "
This year’s event struck out to accomplish four main objectives: engage the affiliates with the plan across all aspects of their organization for 2012, introduce a female initiative amongst all of the clubs, instituting a full-scale child protection project and forging a greater connection to Chicago with a tournament that brings all Juniors clubs together in the Windy City.
Spread across three days, the now annual event breaks off into two groups allowing for focused technical or administrative instruction, according to the individual roles of the representatives.
“From a technical standpoint we wanted to try and balance observation at a first team level while allowing affiliates a way to relay it back to their own youth clubs,” said Roberts.
With that, the affiliates coaching representatives took in first team training last Thursday afternoon and participated in sessions with Assistant Coach Mike Matkovich, Goalkeeping Coach Aron Hyde, Fitness Specialist Tony Jouaux and Director of Player Personnel Mike Jeffries.
Balancing the first team touch points, the affiliate representatives also went through workshops on Academy practice theory, scouting opposition and technical and fitness demonstrations with Fire Academy director Larry Sunderland and assistant coach Tony Kees.
Whilst the coaches got “on the field knowledge”, club administrators received a litany of education in the way of organizing club inventory, marketing and branding, social media, internet technology as well as child protection policies from Fire front office representatives
“We look at our Juniors affiliates both in Chicagoland and around the country as a great asset from a player development as well as a marketing standpoint. As important as it is for them to take back training curriculum to their clubs, we also need our affiliates to represent us from a brand perspective. They are the Fire in their own local markets and an event like the summit gives them practical tools to deliver programming in their local community.”
From the marketing perspective, this writer witnessed a high level of support given to the first team by Juniors affiliates in Florida in Louisiana for preseason games at the early part of this year.
“For those markets, we’re the MLS team they follow. To see the support for the first team in Florida and New Orleans was fantastic. On top of that, they’re seeing the players they aspire to be in those situations and now we can go back and show we’re giving them a proven pathway to the professional ranks.“
Both of the club’s two Homegrown players, Victor Pineda and Kellen Gulley (pictured right), came through the Fire Juniors ranks. While Pineda is a locally produced player, Gulley, a product of the Mississippi Fire Juniors, serves as an example to players his home club as well as those in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Michigan that there is a way to the first team.
“Our objective is to serve as a hub for our affiliates in two dimensions,” said Chicago Fire Vice President of Soccer Operations Guillermo Petrei. “First, from a technical and administrative perspective, we pool and standardize best practices across our affiliates. Secondly, from a player perspective, we leverage our first team and ‘A Team for the World’ our international alliance with Atletico Madrid, to provide the best opportunities for all our players from the professional ranks down to the youth.
Coming away from the three-day event, the affiliate clubs accomplished four main objectives: engaging with the plan across all aspects of their organization for 2012, introducing a female initiative amongst all of the clubs, instituting a full-scale child protection project and forging a greater connection to Chicago with a tournament that brings all Juniors clubs together in the Windy City.
“While the normal technical and administrative exchanges occurred, we also feel we accomplished all of our objectives at this year’s summit,” said Petrei. “There is still work to be done in a number of areas, but we’re coming out of last weekend feeling confident about what the future holds for us and our affiliates.”