30+ players with Fire development ties set for 2016 NCAA College Cup

30+ players with Fire development ties set for 2016 NCAA College Cup -

As the first round of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship gets underway this week, 30 players with ties to the Chicago Fire’s Player Development system in Chicago and Indiana will represent 12 different teams battling for the NCAA College Cup. This year's semifinals and final will be held December 9 and 11, respectively, at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.

For brackets, broadcast schedules and more information on the 2016 NCAA College Cup, visit

Jesus Perez, a midfielder, was a freshman and made 10 appearances on this season’s Akron team, winners of the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament titles. Akron will be making its 10th consecutive and 31st overall tournament appearance and will host Villanova in first-round action on Thursday, Nov. 17.

Butler enters the tournament as its 15 seed, after going 13-5-1 on the season and capturing its first BIG EAST title with a 2-1 victory over Creighton. Their seven total Fire development products lead this year's field.

They feature six Indiana Fire products in freshman midfielder Derek Sutton (13 games played), redshirt junior Tanner Witsken (11 games played, one assist), redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Eric Dick (19 games played, named Most Outstanding Defensive Player for the BIG EAST Tournament), redshirt sophomore Nolan Schloneger (two games played), junior Bennett Kim (16 games played, one goal), and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Ryan Clark.

Additionally, senior forward A.R. Smith (nine games played, one goal) is a former Chicago Fire Academy member. The group will open up against the winner of Thursday’s Michigan St./SIUE contest on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Denver -- the sixth-overall seed -- won its fourth consecutive Summit League Regular Season and Tournament titles in 2016, and is the first team to go unbeaten in consecutive regular seasons and league tournaments since Clemson did it in 1977-78. They’re boosted by junior midfielder Alex Underwood, who featured 19 times this season and finished with three goals and five assists to his name. They’ll take on the winner of Thursday’s San Diego St./UNLV match on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Sophomore goalkeeper Sawyer Jackman is the first-choice shot-stopper for his FGCU side, and made 44 saves over 11 games played this season with a record of 9-1-1. Jackman and the ASUN tournament champion Eagles will be looking for their first-ever NCAA College Cup win when they take on in-state rival USF in the opening round on Thursday, Nov. 7.

Seventh-seeded Indiana features a heavy dose of former Chicago Fire development players of any team in this season’s tournament with six total.

They’re paced by defenders Andrew Gutman (sophomore), who appeared in 19 games this season and earned a place on the All-Big Ten second team, as well as Grant Lillard (junior), who picked up two goals and an assist on his way to a place on the All-Big Ten’s First-Team.

Sophomore midfielders Rece Buckmaster and Jeremiah Gutjahr combined to make 37 appearances for the Hoosiers this season, with Buckmaster contributing two assists and Gutjahr adding a goal and an assist of his own.

Additionally, senior goalkeeper Christian Lomeli made five appearances, and Spencer Glass was a freshman on the squad this season. On the season, Indiana posted a record of 11-1-7, and their berth represented the team's 30th-straight bid to the NCAA Tournament. They’ll take on the winner of Thursday’s Akron/Villanova match on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Fourth-seeded Louisville have been in part powered by freshman forward Grant Hollkamp, who scored twice and had two assists in 12 games played this season. The Cardinals are making their ninth NCAA Championship appearance in the last 10 seasons and will host the winner of Thursday's Colgate-UCLA match on Sunday, Nov. 20.

A freshman on this year’s team, defender Jacob Graiber’s Loyola side earned the fourth tournament berth in the history of its program with this year’s inclusion. Loyola went 13-3-1 on their way to winning the Missouri Valley Conference’s regular season, and will square off Illinois-Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 17 on their home field.

Michigan State
The Spartans are led by Chicago Fire Academy product and leading scorer Ryan Sierakowski, a sophomore forward who picked up a team-high nine goals and five assists in 19 matches played on his way to becoming a First-Team All-Big Ten selection. Sophomore defender Connor Corrigan played 17 games and picked up three assists of his own. Michigan State went 13-5-1 after falling to No. 1 Maryland in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and will kick off their NCAA campaign against SIUE on Thursday, Nov. 17.

North Carolina
Ninth-seeded North Carolina boasts two of the nation’s top freshmen in Chicago Fire Academy products Mauricio Pineda and Cameron Lindley. Pineda, a defender, played in 17 games in his debut season with the Tar Heels, and picked up four goals on his way to being named to the ACC All-Freshman team.Lindley also featured 17 times this season and registered six assists from his position in the midfield. For his efforts, Lindley was named the ACC Freshman of the Year and earned a spot on the All-ACC First Team.

UNC went 11-3-3 this season, winning the ACC Coastal Division in the process with a 5-1-2 conference mark. Their NCAA tournament inclusion marks the team’s 17th postseason appearance in the last 18 seasons and they’ll host the winner of South Florida/FGCU on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame (11-6-2), the 13 seed in this year’s tournament, is set to make its 15th NCAA Championship appearance in the past 16 seasons. This season’s Fighting Irish side features Academy product Jeffrey Farina, a junior forward that played 11 games this season and picked up a goal and an assist to his name. They’ll take on the winner of Thursday’s Loyola/UIC matchup on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Junior goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo allowed just 14 goals in 19 games played for the Cougars in 2016 en route to a Second-Team All-MVC selection. He'll look to continue boosting his SIUE side that won its second Missouri Valley Conference tournament title this year and is making its second College Cup appearance in the last three seasons. They'll being their quest against Michigan State on Thursday, Nov. 7.

South Florida
The Bulls of South Florida concluded their regular season as the American Athletic Conference regular season title winners. They finished with a 9-6-2 overall record thanks in part to senior midfielder Marcus Epps, who played 20 games this season and racked up a goal and four assists on his way to a second team All-AAC selection. They also feature Lindo Mfeka, a senior midfielder who picked up three goals and five assists of his own. They’ll open their tournament run against FGCU on Thursday, Nov. 17.

Illinois-Chicago features five former Chicago Fire Academy players, and return to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in program history. Defenders Mike Jimenez (sophomore) and Joel Leon (redshirt junior) each helped anchor the UIC backline in 17 games this season, with Leon adding two goals and two assists during his campaign. Cristian Sanchez, a defender as well, was a freshman on this year’s squad.

Sophomores Nestor Garcia (16 appearances) and Oscar Gonzalez (15 appearances) helped steady the midfield for the bulk of the UIC campaign this season as well. They’ll take on Loyola on Thursday, Nov. 17 in the tournament's opening round.

Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are the No. 2 seed in this year’s bracket after claiming the 2016 ACC Tournament crown. The side went 15-2-3, thanks in part to sophomore midfielder Brad Dunwell, who featured 20 times and added three assists. They’ll begin the title quest on Sunday, Nov. 20 against the winner of Thursday’s Coastal Carolina/Radford match.