Discovering the Future | The Impact of the Fire’s New Discovery Centers in the Chicagoland Area 

Discovery Centers

Chicago Fire FC recently introduced the idea of its Discovery Centers, driven by Carvana – a unique way for the Club to locate future members of the Academy in its very own community.

A process years in the making, the Fire successfully built a talent identification platform for U-10 through U-12 players to be evaluated for future opportunities with the Academy.

In 2023, the Fire launched their very first.

The first season ran from Sept. 11-Nov. 3, 2023, and spanned eight weeks. In those eight weeks the Fire saw collaborated with some of the top academies in Illinois to help further the development of top talent. In addition, it gave an opportunity for a player to shine through that perhaps had never had the chance to do so in the past.

What was even more astounding was that the Discovery Centers were at no cost to families, players, or clubs. The Fire fully funded the events to give kids the opportunity to display their talents to their local MLS club and allow anyone of any background that same chance.

Over the course of eight weeks, the Fire saw a staggering number of different metrics after reviewing the success of the Centers.

One that jumped out to everyone was how collaborative other academies were. Opponents turned to colleagues, and rivals turned to allies. A total of 126 unique youth soccer clubs participated in the Discovery Centers.

“The Discovery Centers served the purpose of providing supplemental training to young players throughout Chicagoland while at the same time supporting the scouting efforts of our Academy.” said Tom Hicks, Manager of Youth Soccer Development for Chicago Fire FC.

In just the past six years alone, people have taken notice of the Fire’s developmental strengths.

The Fire have developed Chicagoland talents into First Team Homegrowns.

From midfielder/defender Mauricio Pineda becoming the first Homegrown to record 100 total MLS appearances, to goalkeeper Gaga Slonina making his way to Stamford Bridge as a member of Premier League side, Chelsea.

And of course, local stars Chris Brady and Brian Gutiérrez are still dazzling fans under the bright lights of Soldier Field for the Chicago Fire.

After eight weeks of discovery centers in seven different communities in the Chicagoland area, the Fire went out to North Austin, Tinley Park, Naperville, Northbrook, Waukegan, Elgin, and of course, SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview. On occasion, the Fire were so overwhelmed by the number of interested prospects, they operated twice a week in some locations.

Hicks later added, “The enthusiasm for soccer in Chicago at the younger ages is inspiring and we hope the Discovery Centers helped fuel this passion.”

How overwhelming? To the tune of 956 player registrations, the Fire saw 728 player observations taking part in the Discovery Centers.

The response was so positive that the Club involved staff from the Academy, Chicago Fire FC II, and the First Team to come out and see the exciting development right in their backyard. This included coaches, scouts, and a few Homegrowns as well.

“We saw such a strong sense of community and support from our staff when it came to the Discovery Centers,” said Chicago Fire Academy Technical Director Gary Lewis. “I am very thankful to all the 126 clubs that trusted us with their top talent, it really shows how passionate the Chicagoland area is to demonstrate the talent in Ilinois.”

“To go to these events and see our Homegrowns coaching the next generation, it’s truly inspiring,” Lewis added. “These players are real examples of our Academy working, and it motivates us to keep hosting these kinds of events so we can continue showing what Chicago is truly capable of.”

An incredible scouting effort from the Fire Academy, the Club saw 728 player observations. They were able to identify a plethora of talent come through the pipeline, demonstrating that the next generation of Slonina’s, Gutiérrez’s, and Brady’s are out there, and the Fire are excited to find them.

So, what happened to the kids that impressed?

Out of the 728 players observed, the Fire identified 45 players that separated themselves from the others.

Those 45 players were selected to participate in a winter training period at SeatGeek Stadium in order to further evaluate their abilities for next season’s U-13 Chicago Fire Academy team. Additionally, it opened the door for the Fire to continue communication with those players as they get older and develop.

The talent in Chicago is only getting better and better.

“I’ve said it before, Chicago is filled with tremendous talent and we want to make sure all of our players are from the Chicagoland area,” emphasized Lewis. “There is no greater feeling than seeing our very own play for the First Team at Soldier Field, seeing players accomplish their dreams.”

“It’s why we do what we do.” he concluded with a smile.

After everything was said and done, the Fire moved on from the winter training period with 32 players in mind. The chosen players returned for a 10-week spring training period that took place at SeatGeek Stadium.

After those periods came to a close, the Fire identified and offered places in the Chicago Fire Academy for the players that demonstrated the qualities of a promising talent. They were offered places on the U-13 Academy roster.

The 15 players from nine unique clubs all accepted their offers. They will be recognized in an official signing ceremony on Saturday, May 18 at Soldier Field ahead of the First Team’s match against the Columbus Crew.