Preview: Dynamo Academy U-18s host Chicago Fire on Tuesday at Houston Sports Park in Academy Championships

The Houston Dynamo Academy Under-18s host the Chicago Fire Academy at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Houston Sports Park (12131 Kirby Dr., Houston) in the quarterfinals of the Academy Championships. Admission is free and Dynamo supporters are encouraged to attend the final home game in the Dynamo Academy for many of the graduating players.

The Academy earned the home game after a record-setting regular season in which it won the Frontier Division of the Central Conference for the first time in program history and qualified for the Academy Playoffs. The U-18s won all three of its games two weeks ago at the Academy Playoffs in Westfield, Indiana, as one of only two U-18 squads (along with Real Salt Lake Arizona) to sweep its group.

“This is the reward for the hard work that these guys put in every day,” Dynamo U-18 head coach and directory of youth development James Clarkson said. “It is an opportunity for them to play at home one last time, and hopefully they take this opportunity and perform how they are capable of. Everybody is healthy, and everyone is available.”

Clarkson was pleased with his team’s reaction to winning its playoff group in convincing fashion. Now at the quarterfinal stage, the team seems to understand they’ve accomplished part of their goals but need three more victories to win the Academy Championship.

“It was really pleasing to see their (understated) reaction to winning the playoff group,” said Clarkson “This group has played in big games over the years and there is a lot of experience in the team. I think that will help tomorrow.”

The Fire won two games and drew the third to win its group at the Academy Playoffs and advance to face the Dynamo. Chicago defeated Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, in its first game and BW Gottschee (New York) Academy, 1-0, in the next before a 2-2 draw in the finale against the New York Red Bulls completed the group win.

“I think Chicago are a very good team,” Clarkson said. “They are very technical and they pass the ball very well. We are expecting a good soccer game.”

The Dynamo U-18s are led by midfielder Christian Lucatero (pictured above) and forward Charly Flores, who share the team lead in goals with 24 each, tied for sixth in the nation. Flores scored seven goals in three games in Indiana, the most for any player at the 32-team Academy Playoffs, including both goals in a 2-1 win over Crossfire Premier in the final group game. The U-18s are 22-5-3 this season, have outscored opponents 85-37, and carry a six-game win streak into tomorrow’s winner-take-all quarterfinal against Chicago, an opponent they did not play this season.

Chicago (14-4-9; 51 points) won the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference, edging Shattuck-Saint Mary’s (Minnesota) by a single point. Ryan Sierakowski led the squad with 21 goals while Cameron Lindley (eight goals), Matt Moderwell (six) and Mauricio Pineda (five) chipped in as well. The Fire’s coaching staff includes assistant coach Gonzalo Segares, a former Costa Rica international defender who retired this offseason after 10 seasons with the Fire.  

For the Dynamo, Tuesday night marks the second trip to the Academy Championships in three seasons for this group of players born in 1996 or later. Many on this squad comprised the Academy U-16s in 2013 that advanced to the final eight, then known as Academy Finals Week. The winner of Tuesday’s game will advance to the Final Four, held at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California on July 16 and 18.

USSDA U-18 Academy Championships matchups (home teams listed first):

(1) Montreal Impact vs. Real So Cal
Real Salt Lake-Arizona vs. Shattuck St. Mary's (Minn.)
Houston Dynamo vs. Chicago Fire -- 5:30 p.m. on July 7 at Houston Sports Park
San Jose Earthquakes vs. PDA (N.J.)

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