Last season, the Chicago Fire U23 soccer team finished with a 9-5-2 record. With the 2011 season set to get under way on May 14, the Fire hope that a new home will help them improve on that record.
The Fire, a member of the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League (PDL), will play home games at Evanston Township High School’s Lazier Field at Memorial Stadium in the inaugural season. The first of eight home games is set for May 21.
The PDL consists of 64 teams made up of collegiate-level players between 18 and 21 years of age. The league provides players with an opportunity to experience a higher level of competition while maintaining their collegiate eligibility. The Fire is considered zone three of the Major League Soccer development pyramid, a step below the MLS Professional team.
“It is the last proving ground before the professional ranks,” said Todd Short, Chicago Fire Premier president.
Heading into the season, Short said his team has two goals in mind for the upcoming season. The first is to qualify for the 98th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the second is to make the playoffs. If the Fire qualify for the Cup, that means they will be in first place in the PDL Central Conference after four games.
The first four regular season games double as Open Cup qualifiers. Should the Fire qualify, the first game of the tournament will be played June 14.
“[The USOC] is the most prestigious tournament in the PDL [so] qualifying is a big deal,” said Short.
To qualify for the USOC and PDL playoffs, Short is counting on a number of Fire players to carry the team, including defenseman Kevin Cope, midfielders Ken Walker and Harrison Petts and goalkeeper David Meves.
The 16-game season begins for the Fire on May 14 against the Akron Summit Assault at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Ohio. The home opener in Evanston against the Cincinnati Kings is set for May 21.
Other home dates for the Fire include a game on May 28 against River City, June 3 against Hamilton, June 9 against Indiana, June 24 against Indiana once again, June 28 versus Forest City London, July 20 versus Michigan and July 24 against Akron.
When asked, Short said one team he looks forward to playing against is the Michigan Bucks, one of their Great Lakes Division rivals, who they play on May 30 at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Michigan and on July 20 in Evanston.
“They generally put together a great team.They recruit well and it’s a big game,” Short said.
“Evanston has been great,” added Short, regarding playing at Lazier Field, which features a capacity of over 4,000 seats, artificial turf and a public address system.
Last season, the Fire played home games at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, which was not an ideal location.
“Toyota Park [did] not give them a chance to play in front of a crowd,” said Short.
“Prior to Toyota Park, we were all over,” he added, regarding the team playing home games at numerous locations throughout the Chicagoland area.
With most home games on Friday and Saturday evenings, the Fire allows fans another option of entertainment on weekends. “We’re striving to make it a community event and [provide fans an option] for a Friday or Saturday night out,” said Short.
Tickets for regular-season games cost $8 per person and kids 5 and under are admitted free.
Look for the Fire to quickly settle into their new home and have a strong season.