CHICAGO (September 5, 2023) - The Chicago Fire Academy prepares for MLS NEXT Play as they conclude their preseason journey. The first week of preseason action saw the Fire record six wins, two draws and a loss in their return. With a new upcoming season underway, the Fire continue to aspire to develop players to take the next leap into their careers as the end goal is to intertwine the academy pipeline to MLS.
The mission of the Chicago Fire Academy
Technical Director Gary Lewis expressed the Academy’s plan to assess, guide and elevate Chicagoland talent to the soul of the club. As a pathway for development and guiding talented players to the first team, the Fire boasts academy talent such as former Chicago Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, midfielder Brian Gutiérrez, and defender Mauricio Pineda.
The Chicago Fire Academy U-19 Team Returns
The last time fans saw the Chicago Fire Academy U-19 squad, the team was lifting the championship trophy at the inaugural MLS NEXT Championship, earning the tournament Golden Boot and MVP in the process. The following season, the core of the U-19s became the base for the Fire’s MLS NEXT Pro side during that league’s inaugural season. This year, the Chicago Fire U-19 team is back in action, led by Head Coach Rolando Uribe.
Uribe joined the Fire in 2023 after almost two seasons with the New England Revolution where, in 2022, he led the team to the first ever National Championship for the Revolution at the U-19 level.
“It’s about trust. Players have to trust the process, trust what I’m teaching, how I am going to develop them as players and young men," said Uribe. “And I have be able to trust them to implement the game plan to accomplish our goals each weekend. Trust that what we are doing is the right thing for them."
Uribe’s squad is made up of a mix of players new to the Chicago Fire Academy system, as well as players who have come through the ranks such as 2023 MLS NEXT All-Star Michael Nesci, goalkeepers Patryk Stechnij and Patrick Los, and midfielder Dylan Borso, who have also spent time with the Chicago Fire FC II team.
“We aspire to have players training and playing with Chicago Fire II and even training with the first team,” Uribe added. “Our preseason games were good. It not only challenged the players but showed what our strengths and weaknesses are. We are on the right track we have the players to make it a complete and deep team.”
The Chicago Fire Academy U-19 team will kick off the 2023-24 season against Saint Louis Scott Gallagher at 1 p.m. CT on September 10 at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri.
Chicago Fire Academy U-17 Team Aims High
The Chicago Fire Academy U-17 team qualified for 2022-23 MLS NEXT Playoffs after finishing the season in third place in the Central North Division with a record of (5-3-3, 18 points). This season, the squad will be led by Head Coach Sammy Castellanos who most recently served as Director of the Individual Development Program at New York Red Bulls.
“The big overarching goal for the group is can we take over the Midwest again," said Castellanos, “The other goal is to make professionals. I want the Academy to become a machine where we’re producing pros every single year. We want a couple of guys signing and going up the ranks.”
Castellanos will be joined on the sideline and on the training field by Chicago Fire FC forward Kei Kamara, who will be his assistant coach.
“Speaking with Kei Kamara and seeing how he interacted with the kids last year, he’s a good role model but he can also dive into the details that maybe someone who hasn’t played at the professional level may not know those nuances in the game like spinning off or getting in between the lines,” said Castellanos. “He can throw little nuggets of knowledge on these kids.”
The squad started off the preseason with two victories, hoping to use the trip as a foundation for the rest of the season.
“Going to New Jersey and getting two wins was huge," said Castellanos. “It brings everyone together and brings a little bit of belief planting the seed to do something here this season.”
The Chicago Fire Academy U-17 team will kick off the 2023-24 season against St. Louis City SC at 10 a.m. CT on September 9 at the Creve Coeur Soccer Complex in St. Louis, Missouri.
Chicago Fire Academy U-15 Team Focus on Culture and Owning their Professional Development
The U-15 Academy team finished in second place in the Central North Division with a record of (7-2-2, 23 points) last season. This season they will be led by Head Coach Selim Talbi who began his journey with the Fire in 2018 after working with Empire United. Talbi will be assisted by Mike Choquette, who previously worked with affiliate club Chicago Fire Juniors City.
The U-15 stage is an important part of the developmental process for players. Fire coaches believe that the path from being a young aspiring player to becoming a professional hits reality at the U-15 stage. The coaching staff prioritizes the belief that players must embrace the culture of professionalism and being a professional athlete on and off the field.
“Making sure my players progress through the pathway to becoming a professional. It’s important for me to reinforce the culture of clear goals, framework and our values as a club.” said Talbi. We are Chicago and we can produce talented players. It’s important for players to own their development. I’m very lucky to work with this group.”
The squad opened their preseason campaign with two wins and hope to continue building momentum and culture of the team.
The Chicago Fire Academy U-15 team will kick off the 2023-24 season against St. Louis City SC at 12:30 p.m. CT on September 9 at the Creve Couer Soccer Complex in St. Louis, Missouri.
Chicago Fire U-14 Academy aims to increasing technical abilities
Last season the U-14 Academy came in hot as they finished their campaign in first place in the Mid-American Division with a record of (25-0-2, 71 points). The U-14's remained undefeated for the entire season, with their only loss of the season coming in the final of the 2023 Patterson Cup where they fell to Atlanta United, 3-1.
This season they will be led by Head Coach Ross Brady, who approaches his eighth season with the Fire Academy after beginning his tenure in Chicago before the 2015 season. His experience comes from all levels, having managed all the academy age groups from U-12 to U-19.
In his first season, he is joined by Nate Boyden as his Assistant Coach who has been with the club since 2021. Prior to his arrival with the Chicago Fire Academy, Boyden served as Technical Director of Chicago Fire Youth Soccer.
The team opened up their preseason with a win and a draw which opened their eyes to the first building blocks of consistency throughout the upcoming season.
“We had positive results. It was good to see a new group on the field. We have an idea of how the guys are from the first week of training working a bit more collectively. The thing that stood out to me the most is we need to increase the technical level of this group.” said Brady. Having a bit more consistency and control in the game will lead to good results. A step in the right direction but still things to improve on.”
The Chicago Fire Academy U-14 team will kick off the 2023-24 season against St. Louis Scott Gallagher at 11 a.m. on September 10th at the Worldwide Technology Field Park in Fenton, MO.
Chicago Fire U-13 Academy aims for developing young talents
The last time we saw the U-13 Academy in action they ended their season in sixth place in the Mid-American Division with a record of (11-7-7, 40 points). Though the U-13 level does not have playoffs, it is an important time for young players to develop, gain chemistry and bond with their teammates on and off the pitch to become a successful team.
This season the team will be led by Coach Paul Nash who joined the Fire in April 2023 after serving as Head of phase at the Philadelphia Union Academy. Assistant Coach Aaron O’nion joined the Fire in August of 2023 and has experience at the player level from U-13-U-16.
As the 2023-24 MLS NEXT regular season approaches the academy players, staff and coaches are all preparing to continue to develop the young future homegrowns of the Chicago area as they yearn to become the best academy franchise in the Midwest.