The Chicago Fire Academy U-19 team sealed their spot in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship game Friday morning after a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Lehigh Valley United 93 (PA) Friday morning.
“We started well but we became tentative and were not working off the ball well enough to maintain possession.” head coach Larry Sunderland explained. “[Lehigh Valley] is a very difficult opponent in that they are well organized, physical and hard working.”
After halftime, the Fire seemed to regain some of their energy. Reid Strain ended the scoring drought in the 81st minute to put the Fire up 1-0. Unfortunately, the East Coast team refused to go down that easily and Lehigh Valley’s Colton Storm tied the match in the 86th minute of play but the result meant both sides would get a rematch in Saturday's final (LIVE 6:30pm CT on Fox Soccer Channel).
“There was a lot of emotion in this game from our opponent and they worked very hard. Tomorrow night’s game will be tricky for both teams,” Sunderland says. “Can [Lehigh Valley] manage the same energy they put into todays game and, conversely, can we find our rhythm and work a bit harder off the ball to make plays? That's going to be the deciding factor I think.”
For Sunderland, the National Championship is important but he has a greater goal in mind.
“It’s always nice to bring home hardware…but I'd give up all the youth hardware to put players on the first team and win championships there. If we can play good, attractive soccer, then we are heading in the right direction. In the end, the hardware is nice if the soccer is good and players are preparing for the first team.”
There is a lot on the line for the Fire Saturday night. Not only are they working for the historic McGuire Cup (pictured right), the game is going to be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel.
When asked if his team was excited to play on national television, Sunderland couldn’t help but joke.
“I'm sure there will be a couple guys worried about their hair but, we will try to bring them into focus.”
Although the Fire clinched the top qualifying spot in the National Championship game, Sunderland knows they still have a tough battle to prepare for this weekend.
“They need to get it right on the field and today was not a good representation of that so there is a lot of work left to be done.”
The U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship game is set to kick-off at 6:30pm CT on Saturday evening. Tune in to Fox Soccer Channel to watch your Chicago Fire Academy play for the McGuire Cup and all of this year’s bragging rights.