July 23, 2012
SUPER 20 CHAMPS
Fire claims victory over Crew
BRADENTON, Fla. – Luis Medina and Felipe Cortez both found the back of the net as Chicago Fire took a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Crew at IMG SoccerAcademy to claim the Super-20 League North American Finals.
“It means a great deal for the club,” Fire coach Steve Morris said. “It’s a very proud club, and we have a lot of tradition and honor, and we want to be among the championships at every level, and for us at 20s to come through and help out, it was a privilege for us to bring a trophy back to Toyota Park.”
The Fire got on top early as the Crew found it difficult to connected their passes in the early going, and in the ninth minute Medina gave his side the lead as he was able to squeeze a finish past Jeff Gal in the Crew goal, the ball trickling over the goal line.
The goal appeared to bring greater focus to the Crew, who had not trailed at all this season prior to Sunday. Rylee Woods in particular did well getting down the left side of the field, but it was the introduction of Matt Walker that would make a big difference as the forward tied the game four minutes before the break. Making a good turn 35 yards from goal, Walker slipped the ball around a sliding defender and broke in on goal, driving his finish into the left corner of the net.
“I thought the boys responded well,” Crew coach Ian Gordona said. “I thought the momentum picked up, I thought we would get one a little bit sooner than we did, but the equalizer was good, and I thought the pressure overall after going down was great. I thought they did well considering it wasn’t a situation they had been in.”
The Crew came out with greater urgency to start the second half, with Walker and Bryce Rockwell combining well up front as the Fire began the second half on the front foot. Eventually, though, Arturo Garza and Luis Barajas allowed the Fire to regain control in the midfield. At the midway point of the second half, Chicago would regain the lead after being awarded a penalty just outside the penalty area to the right of the arc, and Cortez sent his curling shot into the top-left corner of the net, appearing to catch Gal off balance.
“I had really good confidence in myself, when I saw there was a free kick on top of the box, I raised my hand for Coach Steve to allow me [to take it],” Cortez said. “I went up there and shot it with really great confidence, and gladly it went in.”
“I looked down the bench and I actually said to my assistant coach Chris Brisson, ‘this is his moment, this is one he’s probably going to put away’,” Morris said. “It couldn’t have fallen for a better guy.”
Cortez was selected as the Tournament’s MVP after the game, and being able share the experience with his cousin Medina, who he grew up playing with in the Chicago area, and their teammates was a special moment.
“We’ve been playing together since we were little kids, and we have a really good chemistry,” Cortez said of his relationship with Medina. “As an organization, we’re really happy with where we’ve gone with it, and the opportunities we have with the Fire, it’s really great. Being from Chicago, we’re really happy with that.”
Columbus was then forced to chase the game, and Woods had a well-struck effort saved by Chicago goalkeeper Sam Euler. As the Crew pushed forward, however, gaps started to open up for the Fire at the other end, and in the 84th minute Mark Prince was able to cap the victory as he finished off a good move that also included Medina and Barajas, shooting high into the right corner off the net to seal victory.
Changing their philosophy from previous seasons, the Fire are now using solely the club’s academy players in both their Super-20 and PDL teams, and Morris said he believed their victory on Sunday was a validation that the club was making the right moves in its player development program.
“I think there’s proof in the pudding that we’re on the right track with our philosophies and with our mindset that we have enough quality players within that we can continue to expose them to the next level as we continue to develop and grow their pathway,” Morris said. “We have plenty of players, we have plenty of good players that weren’t even able to make the trip that have been part of both the PDL and 20s this summer. We’ve gone home-grown for a reason, because we’ve got quality there.”