For the second time this calendar year, the Chicago Fire Academy returned from a prestigious international tournament abroad. While the club’s U-13 side didn’t win any trophies over their week-long stay in Italy, they did come away with some victories and impactful experiences for growth.
The club’s U-13 side took part in the Abano Youth Football Tournament and were grouped with Italian sides Fiorentina and Atalanta as well as German club Bayer Leverkusen.
With only one day on the ground prior to playing in two matches in the same day vs. Fiorentina and Leverkusen, Larry Sunderland admitted the side struggled a little bit as they dropped 2-0 and 3-0 decisions last Thursday.
“We started off strong against Fiorentina,” he told Chicago-Fire.com this week. “We probably should have put a goal away in the first half. We had the better of the play, the better of possession. In the second half they brought in a few reinforcements and played more direct and they were able to find two goals and get the better of us. We couldn’t deal with the size and pace up top. They went direct and didn’t play through midfield anymore.”
The second match didn’t go much better as a tired Fire side dropped a 3-0 decision to Bayer Leverkusen.
With only one group match left, Sunderland pushed to regroup his side for a tough match against Atalanta, known well in Italy for their strong Academy system and ability to push youth products along to bigger clubs.
Perhaps being underestimated because of the previous day’s scorelines, the Fire U13s ran out to a 1-0 halftime lead as Lincoln Littlewoods’ 20-yard shot surprised the Atalanta keeper.
The side took the slim lead into halftime and held on late before surrendering a penalty kick and stoppage time corner to fall 2-1 in dramatic fashion.
Despite the result, Sunderland was pleased with the way the team bounced back.
“We rebounded very well against Atalanta,” he said. “I thought we were the better team on the day and had more of the possession in the first half but we couldn’t hold on late. “I think in that game, the group gained a lot of confidence after a tough first day to feel like they could play with anyone in the tournament.”
Winless in the group stage, the Fire U13s entered a bracket of fourth placed teams from the other three groups and downed local side Abano Thermal 3-0 in their fourth match of the tournament, a game Sunderland said the team dominated from start to finish.
That win setup one more prestigious matchup with Russian side CSKA Moscow to close out the tournament.
Though the Fire trailed 2-1 at halftime, the side struck back in the second half, using a hat trick from David Ochoa to close out the tournament with a 5-3 win, placing the team 13th out of the 16-team tournament.
Sunderland’s main takeaways?
Athletically they’re ahead of us. Whether they’re doing more training or getting better athletes. In my opinion it’s because they have the ability to do a lot more body coordination, mechanics, balance and reaction. So they’re a bit sharper than us and they have some serious physical specimens they’re bringing into their clubs from around the world.”
Where does the Fire Academy compare?
“We’re definitely as good in our understanding of the game and technically as well. All in all we were very competitive, we were probably middle of the pack. We were as good as Fiorentina. I think if we had another day to get in and get acclimated we would have beaten them.”
Either way the tournament served as another strong test for the club’s Academy system and another precursor for a future trip abroad. The club will take it’s U18 Academy side to Stuttgart, Germany in June as part of the Plattehardt Tournament.