The Chicago Fire’s first team hasn’t had much success yet this season, but the club’s PDL squad is off to an impressive start to the summer.
The Fire PDL, an under-23 club comprised of Fire Academy products in high school and college as well as other college players from the region, recently won the Hank Steinbrecher Cup. The tournament was contested last weekend between four invited teams from different amateur leagues across the country.
The tournament was hosted by defending champion Chattanooga FC. After the Fire beat West Chester United 6-1 in the semifinal, the PDL squad knocked off the hosts 2-1 in extra time. Mark Segbers, a forward for Wisconsin, scored in regulation and current Fire Academy player Mauricio Pineda tallied the game-winning goal.
“It was a great experience for the players to be in a competition like that, to lift a trophy and to play in front of 3,500 fans in the last game,” Fire PDL coach Logan Pause said. “It’s part of the players’ development as players, learning how to win is an important piece.”
The PDL (Premier Development League) is all about developing players to become professionals. Obviously not all of them will make that jump, but Matt Pearson, the Fire’s head of scouting, and Pause picked a collection of some of the club’s best academy products and other college players.
Some could even become homegrown signings for the Fire. Current rookies and homegrown signings Joey Calistri and Drew Conner both played for the PDL team. Not every player on the team is eligible to sign with the Fire.
“It’s a combination of continuing to further develop our current player pool and then also getting an idea of what else is out there,” Pause said. “This is an important part of their development and allows us to see kids everyday over the course of two and a half months. It definitely helps, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s guaranteed to produce after this homegrown players.”
Two of the Fire Academy players, Pineda and Djordje Mihailovic, are high school age players who are going up against players that already have college experience. Both have also trained with the first team this season.
Pineda graduated from high school a semester early and is set to enroll at North Carolina in the fall. Mihailovic is only a junior in high school. Both have also earned youth national team call-ups from the U.S.
“I think that they have done well with the challenge,” Pause said of Pineda and Mihailovic. “I think it also shows the areas that they need to get pushed and get high level games and get games against bigger, stronger, faster players and faster tempo. I’ve been pleased with the response from those players and other young players that have come through and are participating with the PDL. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to continue to push and push these guys and hopefully continue to be a part of their development over the next course of these years.”
Pause, who is an assistant coach for the first team, is getting experience as well. This is the first time he has been the regular head coach of a team.
“Having my own thing so to speak has definitely been a first,” Pause said. “It’s been a great experience for me to see how to find my voice as a coach and to plan accordingly and run player meetings and organize things and all of those things that are really important for me to learn as I grow in my coaching ability.”
The Fire PDL team is currently 2-1 in league play. The final regular season match is scheduled for July 9 and then postseason play begins.