The Chicago Fire announced Sunday that the club will host a doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire against the Chicago Fire Reserves of the Premiere Development League (PDL) and the Chicago Fire Juniors U-23 Team versus the Fire's Mexican sister team Monarcas Morelia's U-20 Team. The doubleheader, which will be played near the Fire's future stadium site at St. Laurence High School in Burbank, IL, is set for Wednesday, June 23 with the Juniors taking on Morelia at 6 p.m. followed by the Chicago Fire vs. the Chicago Fire Reserves at 8 p.m. CT.
"The Fire Reserves produced five MLS players last year and their current roster appears to have at least half a dozen more future MLS caliber players," said Fire GM Peter Wilt. "This is a great opportunity to showcase the Fire and future pro players near the team's future home in the Southland. We are also excited to host the Chicago Fire Juniors new U-23 team in an international exhibition against a Morelia U-20 team that should include some Mexico youth national team players. This is a great extension of our successful partnership with Monarcas."
The first and only meeting between the Fire and the Chicago Fire Reserves, on June 19, 2001 - during the Fire Reserves' inaugural campaign - produced a 2-2 tie in a physical match that saw five yellow cards distributed and one penalty kick goal. The game in June will mark the second friendly for the Fire this season against a member of the United Soccer Leagues (USL), as the team took on the Rochester Raging Rhinos on May 17 in Rochester, NY, falling to the A-League squad 2-1.
"One of the reasons top players from around the country come to our team is the opportunity to play against the Fire," said Chicago Fire Reserves President and GM Mark Boyle. "No where else in this country do you have a relationship between an amateur side like the Reserves and a MLS team. This game again shows that the Fire is dedicated to promoting and developing the sport in Chicago and the Reserves are honored to have the opportunity to showcase our young stars to this great soccer community."
Led by head coach Mike Matkovich, the Chicago Fire Reserves have kicked off their 2004 PDL campaign in remarkable fashion by recording shutouts in their first three contests and are currently tied for first place (with the St. Louis Strikers and the Boulder Rapids Reserves) in the Central Conference with a 3-0-0 record and nine points. One of the most successful PDL teams despite their short history, the Chicago Fire Reserves were crowned the 2001 Great Lakes Division Champion in their inaugural season and also won back-to-back Heartland Division titles in 2002 and 2003. The squad reached the 2003 PDL Finals, but fell to eventual champion Cape Cod Crusaders in a doubleheader that paired up the PDL squads and the Fire against the MetroStars in an Eastern Conference showdown at Naperville's Cardinal Stadium.
"The boys are really looking forward to playing the first team," said Fire Reserves boss Mike Matkovich. "Any chance you get to play a top team like the Fire is an exciting experience. The kids can't be more excited about it, because it's going to be a learning experience for them."
The success of the Fire Reserves has not gone unnoticed in America's top flight league, as players such as the MetroStars' Ricardo Clark (2003) and Tim Regan (2002) and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Ned Grabavoy (2004) have been drafted by MLS sides since the club's inception in 2001. The "Men in Red" have also benefited from the minor league team, as goalkeeper Matt Pickens and defender Denny Clanton were drafted by Chicago in last January's MLS SuperDraft. Both Pickens and Clanton helped the Reserves to the 2003 PDL Central Conference Championship.
Next month's doubleheader will also bring an international flavor to the Southland, as Mexico's Monarcas Morelia's U-20 team will square off against the newly formed Chicago Fire Juniors U-23 team in what is expected to bring some of the most talented youth soccer players in all of North America.
Tickets to the doubleheader are $15. Tickets can be purchased only through the Chicago Fire Offices, located at 980 N. Michigan, Suite 1998, in Chicago. For more information or to order tickets, please call 888-MLS-FIRE. St. Laurence High School is located at 5556 W. 77th Street in Burbank, IL.
The defending Eastern Conference Champion Chicago Fire will look to extend its four-game unbeaten streak and remain in first-place when it hosts the Columbus Crew on Sunday, May 23 at Soldier Field (3 p.m. CT, ESPN2) in the club's third home contest of 2004.