The Chicago Fire is heading to the Premier Development League’s championship match next Saturday after defeating the Cary (N.C) Clarets, 2-1, in overtime tonight at Valley Stadium.
Andre Akpan delivered the game-winner, assisted by Chris Cutshaw, in the fifth minute of overtime. The all-Central Conference forward’s eighth goal of the season sends the Fire into next Saturday’s PDL title tilt, hosted by the Ventura County (Calif.) Fusion, which ousted Bradenton, 6-1, tonight in Laredo, Texas.
“The whole game was a battle, but there was a lot of good soccer,” said Chicago head coach Larry Sunderland. “Two very technical teams. This is what the PDL’s supposed to be all about – some of the best college players in the country.”
An assistant coach from each team was ejected in the heated semifinal match, along with two Cary players. The officials tossed Chicago’s Pablo Rodriguez in the 67th minute, and Cary’s Henry Guttierez in the 120th minute.
The Clarets played a man down for most of the second 15-minute overtime period, after Ronnie Bouemboue received a red card in the 109th minute. Teammate Justin Willis was ejected just before Guttierez was sent off the field in the final minute.
Chicago, which has appeared in the playoffs all nine of its seasons, returns to the championship game for the second time. The Fire settled for second place in the team’s only other trip to the final – a 2-0 loss to Cape Cod in 2003.
“To get back there, for us, is big,” said Sunderland, whose club carries an 11-match undefeated streak. “We set a goal 10 games ago to go 10-0 and do something no other Fire PDL club has done. That’s win a PDL championship. We’re rolling going into the final.”
The Fire took a 1-0 lead into halftime, thanks to Freddie Braun’s score off a rebound in the 38th minute.
Cary evened things in the 63rd minute, when Tommy Drake capitalized on a penalty kick.
The Clarets finish their inaugural season with a 12-5-3 record. They reached the Final Four by defeating the Des Moines Menace, 1-0, last night.
With its ninth-straight win, the Fire brings a 14-1-5 mark into the title match.