For the first time in decades, the United States will participate in the Pan American Games soccer tournament. There will be Chicago Fire representation, too, as Sergio Oregel and Javi Casas are set to be a part of the squad. The 18 and 20-year-old midfielders were both named to the 18-man roster.
Officially, the Pan Am Games is a U-22 competition in soccer; players born in 2001 and later are technically eligible for selection. For whatever reason, though, U.S. Soccer has opted to send the U-19 team to Santiago for the tournament with some random older players mixed in. Since Marko Mitrović left that gig to take over the U-23 Olympic team, Michael Nsien is now in charge of the U-19s and will lead the team in Chile.
Oregel has been involved with the U-19 team since the very beginning of the cycle under Mitrović in 2022. He has appeared in seven matches, scoring three goals, which all come in wins against Norway, Scotland, and Argentina. His performances with the national team earned him this call for the Pan Am Games.
After a dream 2022, which saw Oregel stand out as Fire II’s next player over the course of the year and earn a first team debut come October, 2023 has not quite gone to plan. Illness kept him out of some early games, and while the Evergreen Park native did get 45 minutes in the Open Cup against Chicago House, that is the entirety of his first team contribution this year. Oregel has not been named to the first team bench, which was a fairly normal occurrence last season, with fellow Casas preferred throughout the year as a guy to make up the numbers and occasionally step on the field.
While Oregel has not quite had the breakthrough season many had hoped for, he remains one of the most talented young players in the Fire pipeline and will continue to await opportunities. If he can improve in certain areas, a strong 2024 is not out of the question, especially since the Fire currently lack depth in defensive midfield.
Casas was not initially slated to be a part of the squad, but since talented midfielder Alex Alvarado is unable to make the trip, he was added last-minute to the roster. His most prominent moment in 2023 came when he set up Kei Kamara’s last-minute winner against Inter Miami in March, providing the secondary assist on the goal. He was involved in a few U-19 camps early last year.
Finally, there is one other Chicago native on the roster, Brooklyn Raines, who could partner Oregel in midfield. Raines never played for the Fire, instead developing with Inter FC Chicago, before leaving for the Barça Residency in Arizona come 2018. He is now a homegrown player at Houston Dynamo, where he has so far struggled to break through, but like Oregel, has shown glimpses of his talent in the limited opportunities he’s gotten and in MLS Next Pro.
The U.S. has been placed in a difficult group for this tournament alongside Brazil, Honduras, and Colombia. The U.S. will open the tournament against the Seleçao on October 23rd at 4 PM Central Time, followed by matches against La H (October 26th at 1 PM) and Los Cafeteros (October 29th at 4 PM).