After slumping without them, Fire see returns of Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent

After slumping without them, Fire see returns of Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent

After enduring a slump that coincided with three injuries to starters in the Fire’s defense, the team is starting to see the return of those players.

Matt Polster missed three games with a left knee injury, a recurring injury that has bothered him dating back to last year, before returning in last weekend’s win in Montreal. Brandon Vincent missed seven games with a quad injury and came off the bench for the final minutes.

“It felt good to kind of get that first breath in a real game situation, just for mentality wise, for competing back with the group,” Vincent said after training on Wednesday.

Polster assisted on the only goal of the game in Montreal, setting up Bastian Schweinsteiger for the game-winner. Polster said he continues to feel more comfortable at right back, partially due to the role being “much more defined.”

During his absence, Polster noticed some issues in the Fire’s losing streak.

“I thought our movement off the ball was lacking a little bit in that stretch and we weren’t really showing up for each other,” he said. “I think as a group we all stated that. We all came to terms with saying that we weren’t showing up for each other and we weren’t making those runs. I thought in the Montreal game we were all moving, we were moving off the ball and trying to get off the ball and show for each other.”

Polster has made his return to the starting lineup, but Vincent is still waiting for that. Vincent came on as an injury replacement for Patrick Doody in the 89th minute in Montreal. With Doody, who filled in while Vincent was out, missing practice this week it is expected that Vincent will start against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

The Fire went 1-6 without Vincent right after going unbeaten for 11 straight in MLS. Vincent sees the connection, but doesn’t want to look at it like that.

“I guess it’s easy when people miss time to kind of try to draw some correlations and stuff like that,” Vincent said. “I try not to pay too much attention to it. I think the group went through a little bit of a down streak and I don’t consider myself separate from the group when I’m not playing. We’re all together in this. We all went through a down streak, we bounced back and now we’re looking to rebound and pick up some steam going into the playoffs.”

His injury occurred in warmups before the Fire played at New York City FC on July 22. The Stanford product had never dealt with an injury of that severity.

“I’ve never had any sort of muscle strain or tear or anything like that so I didn’t know what to expect, which was really scary when it happened because the pain was pretty sharp and it was just a really uncomfortable feeling that I was worried about,” Vincent said. “A lot of emotions when I came out.”

Vincent said everything is normal now and the muscle is healed, but he is working with the training staff to manage his workload to “be smart about” his return.

The first game he missed was the first one after the Gold Cup break. The 2-1 loss in Yankee Stadium was the start of a slump that saw the Fire go from contending for the Supporters’ Shield to falling into the thick of the race just to get into the playoffs.

Joao Meira, another starting defender, has missed three games since going down in the opening minutes in the Fire’s first trip to Montreal on August 16. Coach Veljko Paunovic stayed optimistic about the team’s prospects while the three were out and praised the play of Doody and Drew Conner as replacements, but admitted the injured trio was missed.

“When you go back, you see our performance since we start to lose our back line, starting with Brandon in New York City,” Paunovic said. “It was really frustrating. So it goes now in the opposite way. When you have them back it helps the team to find that performance that we had before that.“

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”

Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai


Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.