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Boys Jul 21, 2015

FC Dallas, Chicago Fire claim Development Academy titles

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After beginning last August, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy wrapped up the 2014-2015 season over the weekend at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California. While FC Dallas captured the U-15/16 title, Chicago Fire hoisted the trophy in the U-17/18 division.

After topping the Frontier Division at 19-3-5, FC Dallas earned the No. 5 seed in the USSDA playoffs. An undefeated performance in Group B propelled FC Dallas into the quarterfinals, and a 6-0 win over No. 6 Beachside SC, 6-0 placed the team in the Final Four.

FC Dallas displayed more of the same dominance in the semifinals against the second-ranked Philadelphia Union on July 16. Without any scoring production from midfielders Devin Vega and Giovanni Montesdeoca, each of whom scored 21 goals during the regular season, FC Dallas cruised to another shutout win as Adrian RamosToshiki Yasuda and Weston McKennie each found the net.

In the final, FC Dallas battled the top-seeded New York Red Bulls, who defeated No. 5 Georgia United with the help of Noah Powder and Brian Saramago, who each scored in the opening eight minutes. The Red Bulls entered the championship game having lost once in 31 games.

+Read: Development Academy players, coaches receive end-of-year honors

But with a championship banner at stake, the Red Bulls were over-matched by another MLS Academy side. After entering intermission with a two-goal advantage, FC Dallas tallied two additional scores after the break in an eventual 4-0 win. Four players – McKennie, Ramos, Yasuda and Giovanni Montesdeoca – netted for Dallas in the title match while

FC Dallas persevered thanks to its suffocating defense. It outscored its opponents 20-0 in the postseason and finished the year with eight straight shutouts, as goalkeeper Ben Hale and the back line continued their dominance through to the end.

Meanwhile, another team from the Central Conference claimed the U17/18 division title, albeit it wasn’t regarded as one of the favorites.

The Chicago Fire finished first in the Mid-Atlantic division, but entered the USSDA playoffs as the No. 15 seed. To escape Group F, it would have to beat out the fourth-seeded New York Red Bulls.

Facing unfavorable circumstances, the Fire responded by earning a draw against the Red Bulls and winning the group by one point over Sporting KC.

“We do come out of a pretty tough conference,” head coach Larry Sunderland said in an interview with SoccerWire.com. “The conference over the last few years has always been a pretty strong conference, so I think that hardened us a little bit.”

And in the knockout round, the Fire continued its string of close wins with 4-3 victory over No. 3 Houston Dynamo. Leading scorer Ryan Sierakowski had the game-winning strike in the 90th minute to send his team to the semifinals.

+Read: New York Red Bulls Academy a factory for national-team defenders

A date with No. 1 Montreal Impact followed, and again the Fire rose to the occasion. After each team netted three goals in regulation, sending the match into extra time, Michael Jimenez and Djordje Mihalovic scored in the 91st and 101 minute, respectively, and the Fire pulled yet another postseason upset.

“We talked about it almost like being a story, and we were writing chapter after chapter of it,” Sunderland said. “Once we got to LA, and we got by Montreal, we just decided that we really wanted that last chapter to be the championship.”

Real Salt Lake, which earned the No. 2 seed that defeated No. 4 San Jose Earthquakes, 2-0, in its semifinal bout, was the only team separating the Fire from capping an improbable postseason run. RSL proved no match for the Fire, however, as Sunderland’s squad finished the season on top. Michael Jimenez and Andrew Gutman netted for Chicago, which also benefited from a Real Salt Lake own goal in the championship victory.

While Sunderland said the Fire didn’t have much time to celebrate in California, the team will be recognized at the Chicago Fire’s MLS game Saturday night at Toyota Park against the New England Revolution.

“We were really committed to finish the season with a championship,” Sunderland said. “They came through quite a bit this year to get where they were.”

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