The Chicago Fire Academy has been one of club's biggest positives over the last several years. While the first team has foundered, the Academy has been able to find success on the field. The Homegrown player pool has produced some talent with more prospects on the way and several in collegiate soccer. Fire Confidential has learned that Academy Director Larry Sunderland is set to leave the club to accept a similar position with the MLS Cup Champion Portland Timbers.
Sunderland has been at the helm of the Fire Academy since 2007 after a stint with Chicago Fire Juniors. Under his direction the club has won National Championships at the U-16 level in 2010 and with the U-18's in 2015. The latest crop of Academy products features highly rated players such as Cam Lindley and Mauricio Pineda, both of whom are regulars for the US U-18 team, and have committed to attend to the University of North Carolina.
Sunderland moves to Portland, where a vacancy exists on the bench of USL side Timbers 2 after they parted ways with coach Jay Vidovich, who is now guiding the University of Pittsburgh. It's possible that current Academy Director Mike Smith moves into the T2 role or Sunderland takes over as the Technical Director for the Timbers Academy program.
Regardless of his new position in Portland, Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic now have the Academy system vacancy to address on top of restructuring the first team. Under Sunderland's direction, the Fire Academy earned high marks for style of play and grew into one of the most well respected Academies in the country.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the Fire could be starting anew from development on up.