CHICAGO – Players from all over the country gathered at Chicago’s Calumet Park this weekend to pursue their dreams of soccer stardom at the third and final installment of the nationwide Sueño MLS initiative.
Competition was intense as 400 players ranging from 14 to 17 years of age showcased their talents in front of the Chicago Fire Academy’s coaching staff, including recently retired Fire veterans Gonzalo Segares and Logan Pause, with the hope of catching their eye and advancing to the national Sueño finals and a week-long training camp in Los Angeles at the end of May.
Players from Alabama, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana competed with local Illinois prospects over two action-packed days, before the selectors settled on 25 finalists from which to select the six players who will advance to LA.
“I think it’s a really good experience for all of them,” said Homegrown Chicago Fire midfielder Collin Fernandez, who served as a scout this weekend. “They get to showcase their talent here in front of a lot of people, and with Logan and Gonzalo here, it’s good to see what the kids can bring to the table.”
“It’s incredibly special,” Fire vice president Pause said of the opportunity awaiting the six finalists, who will live and train like professionals for a week in LA. “You watch these young kids and their preparation and how much they put into a day like today, and being able to be evaluated in front of our academy and youth development coaching staff is special.”
In his new role with the club, Pause, who retired at the end of 2014, is acutely aware of how critical the club’s academy system is to the future success of the Fire, both on and off the field.
“It’s incredibly important to what we’re trying to do,” he said. “As you can see we have academy players in our first team, from Collin Fernandez and Harry Shipp, to Chris Ritter and Patrick Doody, these guys have come through our youth system and it’s an important statement that all the owners in the league, ours included, have put a massive financial commitment to developing our youth.
“We go from 10-year-olds to 18-year-olds, and we believe the younger we can get them in our system, the more time we have with them, the better chance we can get them up to the first team.”
The family-focused event produced several high-quality games, none better than the final match, from which the six winners were eventually selected. Goalkeeper Eduardo Muñoz Diaz from Lafayette, Ind., was joined by defenders Oscar Padilla (Indianapolis) and Isaac Arellano (Las Vegas), midfielders Jose Vasquez (Frisco, Texas) and Baltazar Duran (Chicago) and forward Luis Angel Arreola (Wheeling, Ill.).
All six will compete for the top prize alongside 12 other winners from the previous Sueño sessions in Orlando and Southern California in LA at the end of the month. There they’ll play under the watchful eyes of Eric Wynalda, ex-Fire and Mexican national team midfielder Pavel Pardo and ex-Mexico goalkeeper Martin Zuniga, who also ran a clinic for the ‘keepers at the Chicago event on Saturday.
“An event like this is a couple of things,” Pause concluded. “One, it allows us to engage our community and the youth, which is important, and two, I think we’re also constantly evaluating, we’re looking for talent that doesn’t get a chance to be seen. The chances of us striking gold and finding a diamond in the rough is probably pretty slim, but we always have our eyes open.”