Fire extend youth reach by adding Orland Park

When Orland Park Soccer club approached the Chicago Fire nine months ago about the possibility of joining becoming a Fire youth affiliate, it was an enticing prospect for Fire director of player development John Dorn to consider.

After all, including three other regional affiliates, the only part of the Chicagoland area without a Fire Juniors team was the south. And that was unusual, according to Dorn, because Toyota Park is located in the southern suburbs.

By adding Orland Park – a suburb around 13 miles from Bridgeview and the home of the Fire – that would extend the reach of the Fire even further.

When the two sides entered into serious discussions, it became clear that Orland Park wanted to form a unique relationship, and for the Fire to play an even bigger role in running Orland Park Soccer Club than Dorn imagined.

“I was excited about it from the start because it gave us a presence in the south,” Dorn told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview. “It became obvious from talking to [their board] that they wanted not only wanted to be affiliated with us but they wanted us to set direction, they wanted us to help them to the next level.”

Last week, the partnership was officially announced, and Orland Park will become the fourth regional Fire Juniors affiliate – Fire Juniors South. The other three are North, the Hub Club and Northwest Indiana.

“For us it’s great,” Dorn said. “It’s a club that is in a good soccer producing community, they’ve always done a good job developing players.”

The Fire will now take control over a lot of the technical and organizational aspects of Orland Park, with the aim to improve development. In return, the Fire increase their overall player pool for the USSF Development Academy teams at the U-16 and U-18 level and has the team in the south.

The man to lead the way at Orland Park is current US U-18 coach and Chicagoland native Mike Matkovich (pictured at top), who was named director of coaching. Matkovich spent several years involved in youth soccer with the Chicago Magic, helped coach the Chicago Fire PDL team back in 2002 and brings his knowledge to the new job.

Not only is the proximity of Orland Park a factor, but the club has also produced a couple of MLS players in current D.C. United defender Jed Zayner and former Toronto FC defender Tim Regan. The club’s history, as well as the willingness to work with Fire youth officials made the final decision a no-brainer, and something for the club’s youth officials to be excited about.

“I’m really excited about it,” Dorn said. “It really is a good model, and we have the right people in place to succeed.”