Fire U-19s need just a draw Friday to play for National Championship at McGuire Cup

The 2013 will go down as a successful year for the Chicago Fire U-19 Academy team. Last month they won the 2013 Midwest Region championsship, making them one of the final four teams in their age group. However, that accomplishment is just a stepping-stone to their next goal—to hoist the famous McGuire Cup on Saturday after the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship game.

“This group is a hybrid of players who have either come through our Academy program or our CFYSC program both at Toyota Park,” Coach Larry Sunderland explained.  “The team really illustrates how well we develop all of our players to be able to blend these groups and challenge for the McGuire Cup.”

The team traveled Overland Park, Kansas this week where they are playing in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. Each team has three preliminary games, one against each of the other Region champions.

Play began on Wednesday, with the Fire earning a 1-1 draw against the West Coast Region champions, Pateadores of California. Shortly into the second half, Dan Lojak shot the ball past the Pateadores keeper to bring the Fire up 1-0. Although the Fire controlled the tempo of the game and looked to have the win well in hand, a costly error late in the game allowed the California side to tie it up.

The Fire Academy continued their road to the Championship Wednesday as they took on Plantation from Florida. The South Region champions opened scoring the game with an early goal off of a restart counter attack in the12th minute. Down 1-0, the Fire turned on the heat and, in the 30th minute, Chisolm Ogbonna found the back of the net to tie the game.

“The first goal was a wonderful sequence with numerous people moving off the ball to free the space for Chisolm,” Sunderland explained “It was a highlight reel goal ending with a strike from Ogbonna.”

The second half against Plantation was even more exciting for the Fire, with the team dominating possession and scoring twice more in regulation and once in stoppage time to earn the 4-1 win.

With a record of 1-0-1 in the tournament so far, the team is in a good position heading into their final group match Friday morning.

The Fire’s last obstacle to climb is their match against the East Coast Region champions, Lehigh Valley United 93. Lehigh Valley is also 1-0-1 in group play, after beating Plantation 2-0 on Tuesday and playing Pateadores to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday.

The Fire Academy is sitting in the top spot in the standings before heading into their last preliminary game. Although they and Lehigh Valley each have 4 points, the Fire have the advantage in goal differential after their 4-1 victory Wednesday.

“We did push for the goals in order to get the top position going into Friday’s match against Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania.  A win or a tie puts us into the McGuire Cup Final on Saturday evening” Sunderland said.

The Chicago vs. Lehigh match is set to kick-off on Friday at 9:30am CT. As Sunderland mentioned, if the Fire win or tie the game, they are guaranteed a spot in the championship match. If Chicago loses, they may be eliminated, pending the result of the Pateadores vs. Plantation game also at 9:30 on Friday morning. Coach Sunderland feels confident his team will be victorious.

“If we come out and play the way we are capable of for 90 minutes plus I think we have a good chance of lifting the cup.”

The U-19 National Championship game is scheduled for 6:30pm CT on Saturday, July 27. The match will be broadcasted on Fox Soccer Channel.