Fire captures USSDA national title
Beats Cal Odyssey 5-3 in PK's to become first MLS Academy champion
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By Curt Herron
Following an amazing run through the final part of the season, it only figured that the Chicago Fire Academy would be in one more thriller in its season finale.
With the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's U-15/16 national championship at stake on Friday, the Fire and Cal Odyssey played to a 1-1 draw through regulation at the Home Depot Center.
Then following 30 more minutes in two overtimes, the Fire once again rose to the occasion as they've done so many times during the final two months of the season.
Chicago connected on all five of its penalty kicks while keeper Sam Euler came up with a big stop as it captured a 5-3 win in the shootout and a 2-1 victory in Carson, California.
As a result, the Fire (17-6-10) became the first Academy team from an Major League Soccer Club to capture the Development Academy championship.
More history was made when the match went to penalty kicks, marking the first time in the three years of the event that such a result occurred.
Cal Odyssey (20-8-5) fell in the U-15/16 championship match for the second straight year. A year ago, they lost in the finals to Derby County.
The Fire, coached by Larry Sunderland and Tony Kees, posted an impressive 10-1-5 mark since suffering their last regular season loss. That defeat came on Wednesday after they were already assured of playing in the finals.
Victor Pineda started the penalty kicks in a good fashion with a liner past keeper Matt Dishno. Euler got a hand on an attempt from Gregory Antognoli but the ball dribbled into the net.
After Henrik Egly connected to give the Fire a 2-1 lead, Euler was able to punch away an attempt from Jon-Paul Medina to give his team the advantage for good.
Luis Medina and Daniel Flores exchanged scores during the next round before Lalo Cuautle placed the Fire on the verge of the victory when he found the net.
Villyan Bijev kept Cal Odyssey alive when he connected to make it 4-3 but Drew Conner responded by wrapping things up with a score on his team's final try.
Both squads had chances in the second overtime as Manny Rios and Keaton Albert were stopped on attempts in the second OT before Euler tipped a liner and then a free kick from Flores.
Two key Fire substitutions in the second overtime later played key roles during the penalty kicks as Egly and Cuautle both entered shortly before the shootout.
There was a little less drama in the first overtime Flores sent a free kick over the net and later directed a header toward the goal that was cleared by Anthony Torres.
The Fire's best chance late in regulation play came when Pineda directed a corner kick in front of the net before Barajas bounced a shot off of the crossbar.
A short time before that, Pineda sent in a threatening free kick that was cleared prior to a pass inside from Albert that resulted in another corner kick.
Cal Odyssey tied things during the 56th minute when Antognoli got free following a pass from Bijev and made a short shot just a few minutes after Bijev was denied by Euler.
There was wore drama late in the opening half when Flores hit the crossbar about 30 minutes in and David Caban was stopped on a liner shortly before the break.
Chicago moved in front in the 20th minute when Pineda sent a corner kick toward the opposite side of the net and Luis Medina lined a drive just inside the post.
That score came just after Cal Odyssey threatened with a close-range attempt from Antognoli which was eventually cleared away by Peter Beasley.
The Californians had a few good chances during the early going but Euler deflected one shot away while Albert and Torres cleared other attempts.
Chicago's best hopes in the opening minutes came on shots from Chuy and Luis Medina shortly before Barajas deflected a line drive off of the post.
Three players who took part in the match were recognized by U.S. Soccer by being named to the starting XI roster in their respective conferences.
Pineda was the Fire's lone selection on the Central Conference team while Cal Odyssey's Joshua Alvarez and Bijev made the West Conference squad.