Fire

Bastian Schweinsteiger adds substance to the hype in his Fire debut

Bastian Schweinsteiger adds substance to the hype in his Fire debut

Finally some substance to go with all the hype.

Bastian Schweinsteiger made his much-anticipated Chicago Fire debut in Saturday's 2-2 draw against Montreal. He started the match, played all 90 minutes and scored a goal on a header in the 17th minute.

The German played as one of three midfielders in a 4-3-3 formation, sliding in alongside Dax McCarty and Juninho. It was just his first appearance, but it was clear that Schweinsteiger can produce in MLS.

"You can just tell an amazing player when you see one," McCarty said. "Obviously he's capable of scoring goals, getting assists. More than that he put in a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball and a lot of the good attacking play we had went through him. Clearly he's going to help us."

Coach Veljko Paunovic didn't plan to have Schweinsteiger play the full game, but things changed with the Fire losing the lead in the 61st minute, Juninho getting a red card 10 minutes later and Michael de Leeuw suffering an injury in the second half after entering the match as a sub.

"What we planned is to manage the minutes, but obviously the circumstances dictated something different," Paunovic said. "We had to make our decision based on what was happening on the field. The red card and adjustments in the end. Michael's unfortunate injury. All these kind of things you cannot predict."

From a fitness standpoint, the German said earlier in the week that he felt good. After going the full 90 minutes, the 32-year-old was less positive, saying he sometimes felt tired.

"It's not easy when I got here four or five days ago, but it was OK," Schweinsteiger said. "I was actually prepared and also the training session here was very good so I will definitely also work on my fitness, to put more power and more energy into the game. I am actually satisfied. It was OK, but everyone can improve."

Schweinsteiger got his first taste of the physical nature of MLS in the second minute when he got tripped by Adrian Arregui, drawing his first foul in a league noted for its physical play. He drew a few more fouls including a yellow card foul from Adrian Arregui in the second half.

He took corner kicks from the left side and his first delivery found McCarty on the far side. McCarty's volley attempted was blocked. It was an obvious upgrade in corner delivery for a team which has had notable struggles from corners.

Good thing for the Fire that Schweinsteiger didn't take a corner kick from the right side as well though. He headed in David Accam's cross following a short corner from the right.

In the second half, Schweinsteiger began to show his ability to create chances. He made a few key passes to start breakaways, including the one that led to a red card on Victor Cabrera in the 81st minute.

Sliding into a starting role after just meeting his teammates four days earlier isn't ideal, but as McCarty put it, he knew what he was doing so it made things easier.

"Soccer is an easy game to understand if you play with good players," McCarty said. "He's a guy that doesn't get by on athleticism. He doesn't get by on speed. He gets by on his soccer brain. Obviously he's a little bit older now, but he's played at the highest level for a long time and he's still a world-class player. Any time you play with a guy that has a good soccer brain and sees the game the way that you see it, which I see the game the way he sees it and Juninho (too). I think all three of us see the game similarly. It's easy to play together.

"Obviously there's going to be a couple times where we're kind of in each other's way because we're still trying to figure out each other's tendencies. It's still early in the season so we've only known each other for a couple days. It'll be a work in progress, but I think for the most part we dominated the game in the midfield, but gave up some extremely soft, sloppy goals defensively to make this game a frustrating one."

It wasn't just Schweinsteiger's ability to fit in on the field, it was also his confidence in commanding the team. There were moments throughout the match when he was signaling to players where to pass to or to slow it down at times.

When asked about the style and level of MLS, Schweinsteiger didn't want to say much after his first game. He had mentioned the importance of better finishing from the team. Some of his passes led to breakaways that went unconverted.

"I think it's intense, but it's not easy after the first match to speak about the level of the MLS," Schweinsteiger said. "I am more focused on our game… that we improve, that we control the games, that we are effective, that we use our chances, that we stay compact. We didn't give so many chances away today, but they scored two goals. I like to have clean sheet and score two or three goals."

Schweinsteiger's debut came with a goal and a man of the match honor. If his first performance is anything to go by, the German will be a boost to results, even if that did not happen on Saturday.

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.