Soccer in America has yet to be what it is in foreign countries. America has Olympic Development Programs and other clubs, but very few players catch the international soccer bug. The Chicago Fire Juniors have taken a new approach to this subject. In November, 19 members of the Juniors returned from a trip to Morelia, Mexico, after training with Mexican youth clubs and witnessing first-hand the passion that drives players.
"It impresses me how much of an impact the trip had on the kids, the staff and the coaches," Chicago Fire general manager Peter Wilt said. "It opens their eyes to the level of dedication to the sport in other countries. It's so serious. So much is dependant on their work. It revitalizes them to see that."
The Juniors began their trip touring Morelos Stadium, home of the Monarcas. After getting a taste of the history, the team began training. They trained solo and with other youth programs. Finally, the competition began. While there, the Juniors faced Monarcas (fourth division), San Luis Potosi and Toluca. While Monarcas and San Luis Potosi defeated the Juniors, the team ended its tour with a 2-0 victory over Toluca.
The Juniors also had a chance to tour different sites in Mexico and learn about the culture. While there they took a tour of Casa Club. The youth players for Furezas Basicas live in Casa Club. They play soccer half the day, while going to school the other half. Soccer is their lives.
"There were somewhat rudimentary conditions," Chicago Fire director of youth development Roland Hahn said. "It was another lesson that hit hard with our kids. What was really important to these kids was a roof over their heads, three meals a day and training equipment. It was soccer. Their lives were built around the soccer experience."
The language barrier between the two clubs was not a problem. After all, soccer is a universal language.
"We were exposed to some of the best Morelia has to see," Director of Coaching for the Chicago Fire Juniors Larry Sunderland said. "The kids were able to see what it's like to truly have a passion and have it be your life. That was it for them. That was their ticket. They were all working hard to get to the next level. Aside from soccer, friendships were made. It's good to see soccer players are the same everywhere. "
The Chicago Fire and Morelia formed a partnership in October of 2002. Since then the two teams have been working together to improve their respective programs.
"We wanted to utilize our relationship with Morelia to help us develop better players and better programs," Hahn said. "It shows us where we need to improve."
Sunderland agreed. "As we experience more, we take the best aspects of the clubs we see and bring them back to help get our program on par with other programs," he said.
The Chicago Fire is recognizable in Morelia and well-respected. The partnership has influenced both teams' youth, commercial and administrative levels. Overall it has created new opportunities for both clubs.
"This is a tighter partnership than any other club I know," Wilt said. "Chivas and Chivas USA have potential to be closer. Our first team side is partially limited to friendly exhibitions, use of their uniform colors, a couple of players on trial and players training down there in preseason, The public may want to see a player loaned or transferred from one club to another. Eventually that will happen."
Nineteen members of the Chicago Fire Juniors have become the pioneers for what is sure to be a solid partnership. And the young men have a new understanding of the true passion of soccer.