If there's a sales pitch necessary to selling the Fire Academy to elite talent in the Chicagoland area, it could go something like this: Join the Academy, see the world. Just this year, the cf97 development arm has traveled to Italy, Qatar, Germany and Mexico with various age groups.
The Fire 99s (i.e., U15) side is currently in Mexico City, participating in the Liga Bancomer MX U15 International tournament, a new MLS/LigaMX crossover tournament designed to broaden players' horizons at a crucial step in their growth as players.
"We got an email in June from MLS, asking who was interested in bringing their 99s to a tourney in Mexico," Director of Player Development John Dorn said. " It was first-come, first-served, and I can tell you it took about 30 seconds to make that decision."
The Fire are joined by fellow MLS clubs Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC and FC Dallas in the tournament, which started yesterday with a series of MLS/LigaMX duels. Mexican clubs Pachuca, Chivas de Guadalajara, Atlas and Monarcas Morelia are also ensconced in the Centro de Capacitacion, Mexico's national-team training center.
The sobering results of Monday's action saw all four MLS academies soundly beaten by their Mexican counterparts. The structure of the tournament guarantees that Sunday's final will pit an MLS side against a LigaMX one, and the goal for the Fire at this point is to play in that game, which will be held in legendary Estadio Azteca.
The Fire Academy suffered a 4-1 mauling by Pachuca - but, as always, academy results are less important than the lessons the prospects and coaches learn from them. Since one MLS side from their group will make the knockout rounds, today's matchup against Houston will largely determine whether Chicago graduates to the further stages of the draw. Failing that, they'll play two further friendlies against eliminated sides.
It's not all furrowed brows and deadly seriousness, of course. The boys will have an opportunity to play in a FIFA video-game tournament sponsored by EA Sports over a couple of the evenings; another evening features a tour of the sights of Mexico City. And everybody will visit Azteca on Saturday to see Pachuca take on Club America.
Join the Academy, see the world. Not the worst pitch, surely.