Calistri sparks Fire's second-half rally

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With his team trailing division nemesis Vardar SC Freiburg by two goals at halftime Sunday, there was concern on behalf of forward Joseph Calistri that his Chicago Fire under-17/18 team would lose for the first time in its past 14 games of U.S. Soccer Development Academy action.

Then came the rain. Literally.

"Basically, we had about an hour rain delay, so we went into the locker room, and the coaches left us alone for about an hour. We had to figure it out on our own, and we pretty much did," Calistri said.

"We played the first the first half with a lack of energy and a lack of focus, so we knew that we had to come out with better energy in the second half, and we knew if we worked hard and executed, we could do well."

With the rain having dissipated, the Fire returned to the field ablaze.

Calistri scored the third and fourth goals in a six-goal second half, midfielder Victor Pineda added two more, and there was one goal each from defensive midfielder defensive midfielder Andrew Conner and Manuel Rios in a come-from-behind 6-2 victory over a Vardar squad which the Fire had blanked 6-0 on March 24.

A day earlier, the Fire had easily dispatched of another division opponent, the Crew Soccer Academy Wolves, winning 4-1 on scores by Pineda, Charlie Oliver, Chisom Ogbonna and Ibrahim Konbloa.

"That was the first time that I can remember that we've been down in a match, but it was great for us to be able to fight back after having a bad first half to win the game," said Calistri, who will take his 3.8 grade average and soccer skills to Northwestern.

"But we've got to realize that we've got to start off better at the beginning of a game and not wait until the second half, because that might not work against other teams. We have to have that energy for a full 90 minutes."

Sunday's victory is indicative of the Fire's season, having lost its first two games of the year to Minnesota Thunder and Shattuck-Saint Mary's. Since then, the team has gone 13-0-1 with 10 shutouts and outscored its opposition by a combined 47-6. The Fire is 8-0-1 in the Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference and 13-2-1 overall heading into this Sunday's game with division rival Chicago Magic PSG.

"I think that we've gotten better as the season has gone on," Calistri said. "Our team is so talented on the ball, and we have so many different weapons we can attack with at any moment in the game."

Calistri leads the team with 12 goals, followed by Pineda with seven, Conner with five, Andrew Oliver and forward Kellen Gulley with four each, and Ogbonna and defender Joel Salmeron with two apiece.

"Right now, it's about trying to keep them motivated and focusing on winning rather than focusing on playing pretty. Right now, they enjoy playing so much, and this group can knock the ball around and keep it all day long, that it's almost like they have so much fun just keeping the ball," coach Larry Sunderland said.

"They like keeping possession and playing in really tight spaces, so they forget that you have to score a goal to win the game. That's the biggest thing right now is to keep them motivated and to keep them focused on the objective, which is to win the game."

Calistri agrees.

"I think that as long as we keep our composure and we don't get complacent and we remain focused, we can keep rolling," Calistri said. "Hopefully, we can keep our good play going into the playoffs."