A keystone of the youth soccer scene in the city of Chicago and its surrounding areas for nearly 20 years, Chicago Fire Senior Director of Youth Development Paul Cadwell is set to receive the Illinois Youth Soccer Association’s Career Achievement Award at the organization’s 2017 Youth Soccer Awards Banquet on Friday night (Feb. 24).
Having been involved with the club since its inception, Cadwell currently manages and oversees the club’s Chicago Fire Juniors program, its state association partnerships, as well as its Soccer in the Community wing. He has dedicated a career to growing the sport of soccer and the identity of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club in the state of Illinois and beyond.
“It all comes from the passion that I have for the Fire and the game,” he said. “That’s when I start getting excited, when I start talking about where the game was, where we are, and where we’re going as a game in America. When people interact with me, I hope they see a genuine love for what I’m doing. They see a genuine love for the sport of soccer within our state and within our city.”
Like the sport of soccer, Cadwell himself has evolved alongside the growth of Major League Soccer in the United States. After finishing his university studies and arriving stateside in 1997 after a youth playing career with Aston Villa, Cadwell seized on an opportunity to help build an entirely new club in Chicago from the ground up.
“I was here as the club was being launched,” he said. “Having been around the pro game in the U.K. and seeing it take off here in the U.S., we were a startup club. Everybody was involved in everything. That was kind of the atmosphere that the club built at that time. Everybody chipped in and -- within the first 12 months – fell in love with the club.”
From a role in camps and training to ticket sales to marketing and youth partnerships, Cadwell eventually found himself among the leaders in charge of implementing the structure of what is now the Chicago Fire Academy. Prior to undertaking his current position, he was even tasked with holding down first team administrative logistics and operations duties as an assistant on former Technical Director Frank Klopas’ staff.
“I think I’ve had around 12 different titles since I’ve been with the club,” he laughed. “I know I’ve had about 15 different offices and seating locations throughout the office, but to be honest I’m a club guy. Wherever I’m needed, I jump in. It is what it is. The Fire is my club.”
In his ensuing time leading the youth development charge around the state, Cadwell’s approach has been driven by the potential that curating a youth interest in the sport of soccer can have on impacting the game’s growth for generations to come. Building relationships with organizations like the IYSA has been a big part of doing just that.
“By opening up what we do here to Illinois Youth Soccer and making sure they’re involved in what we’re doing, they opened up their house to us, too,” he said. “That’s where we’ve come together. Whether I’m dealing with kids, parents, coaches or even executives at the state association, I think it’s just an honest transparency with what we’re trying to do here at the Fire and how it impacts everybody. The soccer culture that we have in this country is driven by the youth players and the youth leagues.”
As for the Career Achievement award itself, while undoubtedly an honor, Cadwell sees it as merely the fruition of his club’s partnership with the IYSA and the hard work the Fire as an organization has put in to make the area of youth development in Illinois a massive and wide-ranging priority.
“The people that are involved with (the IYSA) spend thousands of hours a year unpaid growing the sport that we all love, and they don’t just do it at a competitive level and recreational level,” he said. “There’s a program ‘Top Soccer’ for children with special needs. There’s an inner-city program called ‘Soccer for Success.’ There’s a coach’s licensing and a coach’s education program. So, to receive the award from Illinois Youth Soccer means a lot to me because I have a lot of respect for the organization. But, overall, the award is for the club, not for me personally. We’ve come a long way in 20 years, that’s for sure."