More than 50,000 fans were on hand to see Lionel Messi score an incredible 19-minute hat trick vs. Panama at Soldier Field Friday night.
But few Chicagoans got up close and personal with the No. 1 team in the FIFA World Ranking the way the Chicago Fire Academy sides did last week.
The Chicago Fire Academy U-18 and U-16 squads trained alongside Argentina before and after Friday's 5-0 defeat of Panama in Copa America Centenario Group D action. Training at UIC's Flames Field on Wednesday and Thursday, the Chicago Fire Academy had the once-in-a-soccer-lifetime educational experience of mimicking the Panamanian side's tactics and personnel as Gerardo Martino readied his men for the match.
The teams then shared the pitch again on Saturday after the Academy's preparatory assistance -- along with a little help from the aforementioned hat trick off the bench by Messi -- had seen La Albiceleste through to victory the night before.
Argentina closes out group play Tuesday night against Bolivia at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The Chicago Fire Academy sides, meanwhile, are in final preparations for the start of USSDA playoffs June 22-26 in Frisco, Texas.