Fire Reserves enter PDL Playoffs

The Chicago Fire Reserves swept the Thunder Bay Chill in a two-game season finale in Ontario, Canada last weekend to complete the 2004 campaign with a 17-0-1 record and become just the fourth undefeated team in PDL history. The Chicago Fire Reserves have earned the top seed of all 16 PDL teams going into the 2004 Conference Playoffs, to be held the weekend of July 23-25.

"We're very pleased with the way the Fire Reserves represented the Chicago Fire this season," said Fire GM Peter Wilt. "Coach Matkovich assembled, led and developed a talented team. These players took advantage of the opportunity to improve as individuals and as a team. I am certain we will be seeing many of them in the pros in the future."

Fire Reserves forward Julian Nash finished the season among the top 20 points leaders in the PDL with 12 goals and four assists for 28 points in 13 games played while forwards Hamid Mehreioskouei and Thabiso Khumalo ended the campaign among the top five assists leaders with nine and seven helpers, respectively. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan capped off a stellar season, as the University of South Carolina product finished as the number one wins leader with 13 while posting a league-best eight shutouts.

"We're very proud of our undefeated record, because it says a lot about the depth of this team," said Chicago Fire Reserves head coach Mike Matkovich. "We're excited to go into the playoffs and we're looking forward to this great challenge. No team has ever been undefeated and won the league, so we're going to try to be the first to do that.

"The Ft. Wayne Fever is a well organized team and it will be a tough game. We've got our hands full right out of the gate. When you get to this point, there are no easy games. We're just going to play our game and stick to the game plan we've put all year and put our best foot forward."

The Central Conference tournament semifinals are set for Friday in Fort Wayne, Ind., as the Heartland Division champs, the Reserves will face the Ft. Wayne Fever (11-4-1) of the Great Lakes Division while the Heartland runner-up Boulder Rapids Reserve will take on the Great Lakes winner Michigan Bucks. The final will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The two winning teams will play on Saturday in the Central Conference title match.

Chicago Fire Juniors update
The Chicago Fire Juniors went 5-2-0 over the weekend at the annual Green & White Tournament hosted by the Metropolitan Soccer League of Chicago, held from July 17-18. The U-23 travel team earned a second-place finish in the tournament, outscoring their opponents 10-8 while giving up three of those goals in a 3-0 loss to the AC Maroons in the championship match. Forward Nick Kowalski had a tremendous showing during the tournament, netting three goals for the Fire Juniors.

One of the Juniors' most impressive games came last Thursday, as the U-23 team took on Mexican First Division team Necaxa in a scrimmage at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., while the professional club was in town for its friendly against Monarcas Morelia. Despite bowing to Necaxa 1-0, the game was an overwhelming success for the Juniors, whose solid defending held the Mexicans to just a single goal in the action packed game.

"It was a great feeling for our guys to play a team of that caliber," said Chicago Fire Juniors U-23 head coach Derek Niepomnik. "It was a real boost to know they had eight of their first-team starters on the field, particularly because we had them on their heels towards the end of the game."

Despite not making the playoff round, the Juniors went undefeated on the weekend of July 10-11 in the Schwaben AC Men's Open Tournament, registering an impressive 1-0-4 record. Among some of the team's highlights were goalkeeper Lucas Zicher's brilliant saves throughout the tournament, and midfielder Ben Aguilar's 35-yard blast, which proved to be the game-winner on July 10 against Fort Wayne, in the Juniors' 2-1 win.