Last week the Chicago Fire announced a new academy partnership with Indiana United. There are a couple of goals in this relationship and what we as fans can expect to see come out of this arrangement. For starters, you have the obvious idea of opening up a new metropolitan area for Chicago Fire player development. This is nothing to sniff at because the Indianapolis-Carmel metro area has 1.75M people. 1.75M is more than the metro populations of Milwaukee, Nashville, Austin, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City and some other cities that host professional sports teams. 1.75M is no more than 250,000 shy of the MLS markets of Kansas City, San Jose, and Columbus. The relationship opens up potential players but also potential fans.
Those numbers provide a very good reason for the front office to embrace this relationship. It's a three and a half hour drive from Indianapolis to Bridgeview. It's about a three hour drive from Indianapolis to Columbus. You might want to joke about the Fire and the Columbus Crew fighting for fans in a battleground but there are real dollars and loyalties to be had. This was the very first quote in Chicago's announcement:
"Providing quality development and soccer growth to young players in the Indianapolis community is an exciting step for our club," said Fire President Julian Posada. "We want to be the MLS club of choice in Indianapolis and this is the first step in becoming a part of the Indianapolis soccer community."
The bolding is mine. Look for this relationship to expand to the point where Chicago plays a U.S. Open Cup game, pre-season exhibition, or even international friendly in Indy. The Indiana Sports Corporation is a frequently overlooked competent to the region's economy and I recommend expanding your research if you aren't familiar. Indianapolis was bold (or crazy depending on how you want to look at it) enough to win on their bid to host the U.S. Open Cup Final in 1997. If done correctly and explored to its fullest potential, this is an A+ move by the front office to increase the organization's footprint in the middle of Indiana.
The clearer direction of this partnership revolves around the academy and player development. By partnering with Indiana United, Chicago will have the potential to add eligible Indianapolis kids into their mix for homegrown players. Two recent examples of top Indiana talent in MLS are Rich Balchan and Perry Kitchen. Balchan is from Carmel, Indiana and Perry Kitchen is straight up from Indianapolis. Both players played for the Chicago Fire PDL team but now play for Eastern Conference foes instead. Had this relationship been in place a couple of years ago, these guys could be wearing Fire red and making up one of the best back lines in the league. One Indiana United player that has already been up in Chicago working with Fire staff is Cameron Lindley. TopDrawerSoccer.com ranks Lindley as a rare 5 star player and the No. 1 prospect in the Great Lakes Region. There are many other talented players from Indiana United but if you are looking for a name that is currently the best, Lindley's it.
There are no MLS precedents for where this partnership could go or how it will take shape. The only other agreement like this in place started a couple of months ago when the Columbus Crew announced their partnership with the Michigan Wolves (Detroit). However, I would expect to see more announcements soon. Teams aren't necessarily limited to one academy partnership so the Fire were smart to target Indiana United before Columbus swooped in.
What does Indiana United get out this?
Indiana United now has the opportunity to get their players into competitions like the U-17 Generation adidas Cup, Chicago Fire PDL games, MLS Reserves League matches and all other future competitions that are limited to MLS teams. That last part is very key. I'll leave it at that and let your imagination run wild.
Indiana United's coaching staff will be working with the the Chicago Fire coaching staff on a collaborative coaching curriculum and exchanging tactics.
"We are simply thrilled at the opportunity to partner with the Chicago Fire," said Indiana United and Carmel United President Dan Meador. "The Fire's ability to provide additional technical assistance for our already outstanding coaching staff, exposure to best-in-class training and coaching curriculum associated with an MLS franchise and additional exposure for our players will truly help us meet our stated mission of developing our players to their fullest potential."
Personnel like the Fire's Larry Sunderland and Mike Matkovich (recently hired back on as Director of Operations for Chicago Fire Juniors South while still currently the head coach of the National U-18s) represent some of the best developmental soccer minds in the country. The all-around opportunities both clubs offer each other hardly confine this agreement to the Fire plopping down their flag in Indiana and saying, ‘your soccer youth belongs to us'.
Other Fire Youth News
U-17 MNT head coach Wilmer Cabrera called up 32 players for the fall semester of the U.S. Soccer U-17 Residency Program on Tuesday. These players join the decade-long program in Bradenton, Florida and will train under Cabrera and other U.S. Soccer staff. The Chicago Fire did not have any players called up while 7 of the 15 other American MLS teams did. In fact, the Red Bulls had 7 players called up for duty. New York should be proud but this isn't something to be alarmed about as a Fire fan. There are natural ups and downs in years. This is the first time the Fire haven't sent at least one player to U-17 Residency since Spring of 2008. Throughout that time period, the Fire were represented by Victor Pineda, Kellen Gulley or AJ Jeffries.
The NCAA soccer season is well underway and the Chicago Fire academy and PDL graduates are being well represented. Below is a sampling of those players in the Big Ten.
Ohio State - Brady Wahl
The U-18 graduate and Geneva, IL product is a freshman at Ohio State. Ohio State has dropped out of the top 25 but it's still impressive that Wahl has started all eight games this season and contributed an assist. Wahl participated in a couple of Fire Reserves League games before the college season started.
Indiana University - Chris Estridge and Patrick Doody
Chris Estridge, the Chicago Fire PDL leading goal-scorer, continues to light it up on the soccer field. The Indiana University senior from Indianapolis has two goals and two assists in seven games for the 7th ranked squad in the country. Freshman Patrick Doody from Naperville, IL has yet to add his name to the stat sheet but he is one of 13 IU players to have played in all seven games this year. Doody showed up on just about every squad last year, U-18, PDL, Reserves League, you name it.
Northwestern University - Chris Ritter and Peter Beasley
Chris Ritter played with the Chicago Fire academy before going to Northwestern. The college junior from Winnetka was just named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for scoring two goals in two wins. Ritter also has an assist on the year and has started all seven games so far. Fire U-18 captain and frequent 2011 Reserves League player Peter Beasley has yet to play for Northwestern but is still a freshman after all.