Fire

Fire going 'all out' in preparation for USOC quarterfinal

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Fire going 'all out' in preparation for USOC quarterfinal

It's no secret that the Chicago Fire hold the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in high esteem.

With a 23-1-1 record in Open Cup games held in the state of Illinois, the Fire -- champions of the competition in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 -- booked their place in the last eight for the 13th time in club history with a win over Charlotte Independence on June 30.  

Having never been eliminated at the quarterfinal stage -- boasting an 11-0-1 record all-time -- the Men in Red will look to continue the trend Wednesday night against Orlando City SC at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. CT; Chicago-Fire.com, USSoccer.com). Three wins shy of a fifth Open Cup title, a fourth semifinal berth since last lifting the trophy -- and second consecutive since head coach Frank Yallop's appointment -- is on the line.

“In the [first] two rounds, we found a way to win,” Yallop said Monday via teleconference. “Hopefully it’s our tournament. We’re desperate to do well. It’s a very good record, and hopefully that continues to 24-1-1. It will be tough. Orlando are a good side, as we’ve seen. They’re coming in to try and win the match, and they have some good players, but our guys will be up for it and ready. Let’s hope we can get through and get a good result.” 

[RELATED: Fire to host Orlando City SC in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals]

Should the Fire carry the day, they will travel to face the Philadelphia Union, who outlasted the New York Red Bulls with 10 men Tuesday night and prevailed in penalty kicks to etch their place in the semifinals.

Heading into Wednesday's clash, however, a 3-2 league defeat to Orlando City on June 6 -- the first of four scheduled fixtures between the sides in 2015 -- will evoke haunting memories of a game Yallop “felt we should’ve got more out of,” he told reporters. After taking a 2-1 lead through clinically taken goals by Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam, Orlando City striker Cyle Larin's bullet and Adaílton's own goal helped the visitors secure three points at Toyota Park.

Since then, Yallop's roster depth has come to the fore, as captain Jeff Larentowicz, Designated Players Shaun Maloney and David Accam -- among others -- were sidelined with injuries. Despite the absences of Larentowicz and Mike Magee, who was forced to sit out of Sunday's 3-1 loss at Columbus Crew SC with a knee contusion, Yallop will have the rare luxury of fielding a near first-choice lineup. Accam and Patrick Nyarko are in contention to start, Joevin Jones is back and recuperating from Trinidad and Tobago's exit from the Gold Cup, and, after taking part in his first full training session Monday morning, Maloney will likely be available for selection.     

"[Wednesday] is an important game for the Fire," Yallop added. "It's [Open Cup] a big, big tournament we want to win. We’re going all out. It’s not a lineup that’s going to be to give guys 90 minutes. This is to win the match. I know the tradition we have here at this club, and we want to continue that and have a good result on Wednesday to get through to the next round. We’ll deal with the weekend game after that.”

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A victory Wednesday night for the Men in Red could generate promising effects apart from just the Open Cup. With back-to-back defeats to Crew SC, a third straight loss, conversely, would breed a streak not experienced since early March and June, when the Fire lost three on the trot against Western and Eastern Conference opponents, respectively.

Ahead of MLS regular season matches against the New England Revolution and FC Dallas, punching a ticket to a 13th Open Cup semifinal appearance could provide just the sort of boost the Men in Red need as they begin a three-match homestand.

“It’s not been according to plan with what’s gone on this season, injuries a part of it and not quite getting the job done is a part of it,” Yallop said. “We’ve just got to believe we’re going to win every game we’re going to play, and that’s all we can do. Including on Wednesday, and then come Saturday and the following Sunday, we’ve got three home games in a row, so we’ve got to look to get three wins if we can.”   

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.

Fire add Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai on loan

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AP

Fire add Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai on loan

With the recent trade of David Accam and injuries to two players who logged key minutes last season, the Fire’s attack has looked significantly shorthanded since the start of the preseason. Help is on the way.

The Fire announced a loan move for Serbian midfielder Aleksander Katai on Tuesday. Katai joins from Spanish La Liga club Deportivo Alaves. The loan is through June 30, according to Alaves’ website, although the Fire have an option to buy at the end of the loan.

If the Fire continue to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, Katai can play all three attacking spots in support of Nemanja Nikolic. He typically plays at right wing. In addition to trading Accam, the Fire also traded winger Arturo Alvarez and will be without Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic until around July or August as those two recover from ACL tears.

The short-term loan should at least cover the time until those two start to return, but also allows the Fire some time to evaluate the player before spending a transfer fee to add him permanently.

Katai, whose 27th birthday coincides with the day of the move, played in Serbia and Greece before making the move to Alaves. He joined Alaves in August of 2016 and has made 30 appearances for the club, but just four appearances and no starts this season. A move to the Fire gives him a much better chance at regular playing time, hooks him up with Serbian coach Veljko Paunovic and could potentially increase his chances of making the Serbian World Cup roster. Katai has played six times for Serbia.


The high point of Katai’s career was taking the scoring crown of the Serbian Superliga with Red Star Belgrade in the 2015-16 season when he scored 21 goals. That prompted the move to Alaves the following season, but Katai only scored three goals in 20 La Liga matches that season.

The Fire likely still need more help in the attack or the team will have to trust some young talent to log heavy minutes. Even if Katai plays underneath Nikolic or moves Luis Solignac to that spot, Accam’s vacancy at left wing is still there unless second-year player Daniel Johnson can step in.

Katai will join the Fire in the middle of the preseason. The Fire already beat the University of South Florida, the Fire’s host through this portion of the preseason, 2-0 with goals from Nikolic and third-round pick Elliot Collier. The Fire’s next preseason game is Thursday against Accam’s new team, the Philadelphia Union.