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Chicago Fire Academy Rankings - Soccer America is a fan, the USSDA is not.

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Since 2003, Soccer America has reviewed soccer clubs from across the country and highlighted the best of the bunch. Two weeks ago, they continued the tradition by releasing the 2011 edition of the Best Boys Soccer Clubs. Drum roll please...

  1. Baltimore Bays
  2. FC Dallas
  3. New York Red Bulls
  4. Chicago Fire
  5. PDA

Least you think this is a minor accomplishment, let me remind you that the Fire have gone from being unranked in 2008, up to No. 13 in 2009, higher still to No. 7 in 2010 and highest yet with this ranking of No. 4 out of several dozen clubs across the country in 2011. This elevation is even more impressive when you consider the fact the Fire Academy was founded in 2007. Academy Director Larry Sunderland, Player Development Director John Dorn, the rest of coaching staff, the players, everyone else involved with the Chicago Fire Academy should be very proud... even if the U.S. Soccer Development Academy says not so fast. More on that and much more after the break.

The Soccer America rankings are great, but you might have recalled seeing another development list that put the Fire solidly in the middle of the pack if not behind it for MLS academies. There is a star system going on and FC Dallas has a perfect score while the Fire not so much. It was a little odd.

I tried to figure out why I didn't dive into this sooner and then it dawned on me. This was the official U.S. Soccer Development Academy evaluations and they were released at the end of September. Everyone at HTIOT was immersed in U.S. Open Cup Final mode. Now that order has been restored, let's take a look at those rankings.

4 STARS

FC Dallas Academy; Dallas, TX

3.5 STARS

CASL Chelsea FC; Raleigh, NC
Dallas Texans; Dallas, TX
IMG Soccer Academy; Bradenton, FL
NE Revolution Academy; Foxboro, MA
Red Bull New York Academy; Secaucus, NJ
Solar Chelsea; Dallas, TX
Weston FC; Weston, FL

3.0 STARS

Albertson SC; Long Island, NY
Arsenal FC; Temecula, CA
Baltimore Bay Chelsea; Baltimore, MD
Charlotte Soccer Academy; Charlotte, NC
Columbus Crew Academy; Columbus, OH
Concorde Fire; Atlanta, GA
Cosmos Academy-East; Brooklyn, NY
Cosmos Academy-West; Pomona, CA
DC United Academy; Washington, DC
Derby County Wolves; Livonia, MI
Empire United; Syracuse, NY
FC Westchester; Westchester, NY
Houston Dynamo Academy; Houston, TX
Internationals; Cleveland, OH
Kendall SC; Miami, FL
LA Galaxy Academy; Los Angeles, CA
North Carolina Fusion; Greensboro, NC
PA Classics; Lancaster, PA
Pateadores; Costa Mesa, CA
Players Development Academy; Zarephath, NJ
Real SoCal; San Fernando, CA
RSL Academy-AZ; Phoenix, AZ
Seatle Sounders FC Academy; Seattle, WA
Sockers FC; Chicago, IL
South Carolina United; Mt Pleasant, SC
Sporting Kansas City Academy; Kansas City, MO
St Louis Scott Gallagher-Missouri; St Louis, MO
Texans SC; Houston, TX
Texas Rush; Woodlands, TX

2.5 STARS

Cal Odyssey; Clovis, CA
California Development Academy; Sacramento, CA
Chicago Fire Academy; Chicago, IL
Chicago Magic; Chicago, IL
Chivas USA Academy; Carson, CA
Clearwater Chargers SC; Clearwater, FL
Colorado Rapids Academy; Commerce City, CO
Crossfire Premier; Redmond, WA
De Anza Force; San Francisco, CA
FC Delco; Philadelphia, PA
FC Greater Boston; Boston, MA
Indiana United; Carmel, IN
Irvine Strikers; Irvine, CA
Minnesota Thunder; Minneapolis, MN
NJSA 04; Aberdeen, NJ
Nomads SC; San Diego, CA
North Meck SC; Charlotte, NC
Oakwood SC; Hartford, CT
Real Colorado; Highlands Ranch, CO
Richmond Strikers; Richmond, VA
Seacoast United; Epping, NH
Shattuck-Saint Mary's; Faribault, MN
SJ Earthquakes Academy; San Jose, CA
St Louis Scott Gallagher-Metro; Collinsville, IL
Vardar; Detroit, MI

2.0 STARS

Birmingham Utd; Birmingham, AL
Classics Elite; San Antonio, TX
Colorado Rush; Littleton, CO
FC Milwaukee; Mlwaukee, WI
Match Fit Chelsea ; Bayonne, NJ
McLean Youth Soccer; McLean, VA
Potomac; Potomac, MD
Richmond Kickers; Richmond, VA
San Diego Surf; San Diego, CA
Santa Cruz Breakers; Aptos, CA
South Central Premier; New Haven, CT
Virginia Rush; Virginia Beach, VA

1.5 STARS

Lonestar SC; Austin, TX

1.0 STARS

Andromeda FC; Plano, TX
Met Oval; New York, NY

According to U.S. Soccer, the Fire academy isn't shining so brightly. Clubs were not ranked inside the individual star levels but the 2.5 stars overall means Chicago is at least in the bottom four MLS teams along with Chivas USA, the Colorado Rapids, and the San Jose Earthquakes. If you follow Major League Soccer front offices, you know it's never a good thing to be lumped into a category with those three. This ranking is downright alarming on the face of it but digging deeper into the judging criteria brings a little more comfort. The link will take you to the full listing, I'll cover the cliff notes here.

Player Development accounts for 20%, Style of Play another 20%, Training Environment 20%, Administration 10%, Facilities 10%, Funding 10%, and Respect 10%. Here are what the evaluations look like side by side with the only 4 star club, FC Dallas.

Team Player Development Style of Play Training Environment Administrative Facilities Funding Respect
Chicago Fire ** *** **1/2 *** *** **** ***1/2
FC Dallas **** **** ***1/2 *** **** **** ***1/2

Chicago has 21 out of 28 stars. FC Dallas tops the charts with 26 out of 28. It's a difference of 5 stars overall, but Chicago doesn't do well in the big categories so it falls.

The Fire get killed especially in Player Development where Dallas has sent 16 players to various levels of U.S. Youth National Teams and has 6 academy players that have signed professional contracts. Chicago only has 8 USYNT players and the Chicago Fire Academy itself has only produced one professional player: Victor Pineda.

Professional is somewhat of a loose term here because the six FC Dallas players Moises Hernandez, Bryan Leyva, Ruben Luna, Richard Sanchez, Jonathan Top, and Victor Ulloa combine for 8 seasons under contract and just 477 minutes of play. Luna has 455 of those minutes with Ulloa chipping in a whopping 9 and Leyva putting in a grand total of 13 back in 2010. The signing of these players to homegrown contracts might help them in the USSDA rankings but it also raises questions about FC Dallas' management of its first team's roster.

For example, Chicago with its wide open roster was able to take a gamble on Orr Barouch last season. The 10 Supplemental Roster spots were almost all open going into 2011. Dallas had more than half of those roster spots filled up by Homegrown Players that are arguably not ready to play. Had they been able to pursue a younger player like Barouch that is ready to contribute right now, they might have had more depth to help them spread out minutes on the roster in 2010 and 2011. It should be noted that Homegrown Player signings are not a matter of whoever fills out half their roster with them first wins some kind of prize.

The only real red flag I see for the Fire in the USSDA's evaluation is the two and a half stars on Training Environment. The factors in this category are attendance (player and coach), coach's influence on training, does training translate to game, quality of training plans, training log, competitiveness and intensity of training, and use of video and technology. These all seem like very important categories for player development and regional rival Sockers FC and MLS rival FC Dallas both pulled off 3 1/2 stars in that category. Perhaps there is a problem here or perhaps someone misplaced the training logs. Maybe the kids weren't as competitive as they could be because they had plain white stripes across their jerseys instead of the 'Fire' jerseys they got later on.

Facilities is perhaps another area the team could look into upgrading but FC Dallas' stadium was built around a complex of fields designed for youth tournaments. Three stars for the Fire in facilities is pretty good. Style of Play is a category I could care less about because the USSDA wants teams to play their way? I trust the Fire staff that has guys like U-18 USYNT coach Mike Matkovich on board to run a good youth soccer program. I couldn't be more club before country on this.

Soccer America backs up this idea with the rankings I mentioned above. Here's the criteria they use.

Soccer America selects the top 30 clubs based on success of their teams in national youth competitions over the last three years (2009-11) and the selection of their players to national youth teams and other national achievements in 2011. Club profiles may reference other accomplishments, but accomplishments of former players and the number of players placed in college are not considered.

The Fire may not be getting the many national call-ups and signing professional contracts but they have hauled in hardware the last three years. A lot of it, and at increasingly higher levels.

2010-11 Season

U19 Boys (North) IYSA State Cup Champions

U18 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U18 Boys Midwest Region League Premier Champions

U17 Boys IYSA State Cup Finalists

U17 Boys (North) IYSA State Cup Champions

U16 Boys (North) IYSA State Cup Champions

U15 Boys USYSA National Champions

U15 Boys USYSA Region ii Champions

U15 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

2009-10 Season

U16 Academy USSFDA National Champions

U19 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U18 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U18 Boys Midwest Regional League Premier Champions

U17 Boys US Club Regional Champions

U17 Boys IYSA State Cup Finalist

U16 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U16 Boys (North) IYSA State Cup Finalist

U15 Boys (North) IYSA State Cup Finalist

U13 Boys IYSA State Cup Finalist


2008-09 Season

U17 Boys Region II Finalist

U19 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U16 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U15 Boys IYSA State Cup Champions

U17 Boys IYSA State Cup Finalist

In my opinion, it's more important to have this successful structure in place than a couple of success stories anyway. The North American Soccer League made a splash with stars and fizzled. Major League Soccer has survived because they have set infrastructure goals for long-term success and the league continues to hit them. If the Fire continue to win and instill winning as a primary component to playing for the Chicago Fire and representing the badge, that's what is important to me. There can be too much focus on winning to the detriment of players collective and individual development but there's also the aspect of building an internal coaching core to keep the organization strong. I also believe that you can teach a player how to win and give an entire organization a confident attitude. Just keep on winning.