Northern Illinois junior Sean Totsch never had experienced anything like his first U.S. Open Cup game with the Chicago Fire PDL team this summer.
About 150 fans from Section 8, the Chicago Fire’s support group, made the trip to Bridgeview to cheer on the Premier Development League team, which also included NIU teammates Isaac Kannah and Jordan Godsey, in a tournament that featured teams from all levels of U.S. soccer.
The fans chanted and sang all game and set off flares near the final whistle of the Fire PDL team’s 1-0 win against the Croatian Eagles, in which Kannah scored the only goal.
“It was an awesome experience,” Totsch said. “Even at NIU, we don’t get that many fans at our games. Every once in awhile, we’ll get a lot of people at a game, but we never really get chants or anything like that. It’s a special experience.”
The team suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in the next round of the tournament to the Dayton Dutch Lions, who went on to beat Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in the next round.
Totsch injured himself a few weeks later in a scrimmage, and Kannah also was injured after playing in four games.
But all three NIU players were able to gain insight into the world of professional soccer. The team plays in the fourth tier of American soccer, but it is affiliated with the Fire, who play in Major League Soccer.
“It was a big benefit working with an MLS team,” Godsey said. “It’s really different to go from college players to professional players. You’ve got to think quicker, and it’s better talent.”
The Fire PDL team plays on a field adjacent to the Chicago Fire’s training field at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. In the past, the team has featured high-profile college players, including several who would go on to represent the U.S. national team.
But this year, the team featured more players who played in the Fire youth system, like Totsch and Godsey.
“All of the guys on the team, I’ve been playing with since I was 8, 9 years old,” Totsch said. “Everyone was, for the most part, familiar with everybody.”
Godsey, who played with a Mississippi-based Fire youth team in high school, has played two seasons with the Fire PDL side, and he’s hoping to parlay that into a professional career.
Fresh off a second-round exit from the NCAA tournament with the Huskies, he knows he has a lot to accomplish in college first. He thinks this summer went a long way toward making him a better player.
“(Fire PDL coach) Mark Spooner said I had a really good summer,” Godsey said. “Not many people get the chance to play with an MLS team that also has a semi-pro team, having the first team look at you every day.”