Fire

Arturo Alvarez's early goal snaps Fire's skid

Arturo Alvarez's early goal snaps Fire's skid

The Chicago Fire got a welcome return home and a desperately needed three points on Saturday.

The Fire snapped a three-game losing streak, all of which came on the road, and a six-match winless streak in a 1-0 win against Houston at Toyota Park.

Arturo Alvarez's goal in the third minute, which was his first for the Fire (2-5-4, 10 points), was the difference.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to start. Will Bruin nearly scored for Houston (3-7-2, 11 points) in the second minute, but a clear handball by Giles Barnes waved off the goal. Soon after Gilberto lofted a ball into the box towards Arturo Alvarez, who got behind DaMarcus Beasley and redirected it past Tyler Deric with one touch.

“I knew he was ready to make a cross," Alvarez said of Gilberto. "I felt like maybe if I can sneak in there maybe the ball would bounce and beat Beasley. It did. Sometimes you just guess and it kind of falls through.”

Beasley, a former member of the Fire, made a couple uncharacteristic mistakes early was subbed off in the 13th minute. He was trying to play through an illness, but was unable to continue.

The win came at the end of a stretch of four games in 11 days for the Fire. The first three were all losses on the road.

"It hasn’t been an easy two weeks," Alvarez said. "Four games in two weeks, a lot of traveling, but I think the group showed good character."

In addition to the assist Gilberto totaled eight shots, including two on goal that forced impressive saves by Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric. Even in the absence of David Accam, who was suspended, this was one of the Fire's best games of the season in terms of generating chances and shots on goal. Gilberto, who has yet to score this season, has been a part of the problem, but contributed to the Fire's win on Saturday.

"I think he deserved to score today, not only because he had those chances, but he played for the team," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of Gilberto. "He was generous with teammates and he was close. We just encourage him to keep on working hard and keep on working for the team, supporting and leading the team into attack and in defense.”

The Fire still had just 37 percent of the possession against a Houston team which prefers to play longball. The Dynamo are just one spot ahead of the Fire in the league in terms of possession, 19th out of 20 teams. However, the Fire held the edge in shots at 20-10 and 7-3 in terms of shots on target.

Houston is now 0-6 on the road this season.

Paunovic made five changes to the Fire's lineup from Wednesday's loss at the New York Red Bulls, including the entire midfield. Matt Polster returned after being rested Wednesday and played alongside Michael Stephens and Nick LaBrocca. Alvarez also returned in place of Joey Calistri and Gilberto took Accam's spot.

The Fire are home again next Saturday when they take on the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers.

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

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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

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USA TODAY

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 MLSsoccer.com, 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.