Fire

Blas Perez's late bicycle kick undoes Fire in Vancouver

Blas Perez's late bicycle kick undoes Fire in Vancouver

The Chicago Fire had evened the match, had the momentum and Vancouver seemed shaky late in the second half.

Then Blas Perez scored what will end up as one of the goals of the season. Perez perfectly struck a bicycle kick in the 89th minute to give Vancouver a 2-1 win against the visiting Fire on Wednesday night.

After a lackluster first half in which Perez scored to give the Whitecaps (5-5-2, 17 points) a 1-0 halftime lead, Kennedy Igboananike had equalized with a shot that beat Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted at his near post. The Fire (1-3-4, 7 points) seemed rejuvenated with confidence and had the Whitecaps on the ropes.

The first half was probably one of the Fire's worst halves of the season. The Whitecaps had the lead, 65 percent of the possession and the Fire managed just two shots on goal.

Then Igboananike's goal in the 62nd minute sparked one of the Fire's better halves of the season. Igboananike used a series of step overs to get some separation from the defender and hit a low drive that beat Ousted at his near post. The Fire had extended stretches of possession in the second half and nearly scored another when Igboananike hit the post trying to beat Ousted on his near post again.

Perez's goal actually came against the run of play, but that won't matter on the final score. What could have gone down as a positive result on the road to build upon for the Fire became a crushing defeat thanks to one brilliant moment from Perez.

To open the scoring, Perez tapped in a Christian Bolanos cross from the right side. Bolanos got behind the Fire defender on the right wing after receiving a long ball. His low cross got all the way to Perez, who was behind goalkeeper Matt Lampson and defender Johan Kappelhof.

The first half came to a halt when Vancouver forward Masato Kudo and Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson collided going after a long ball in the Fire's penalty box. Lampson grabbed the ball, but the momentum of both players caused the collision. The medical staff on hand rushed to Kudo after he was bleeding from his mouth and was later determined to have a concussion. After a seven-minute delay, Kudo was sitting upright while being stretchered off and was taken to the hospital.

"I'm trying to stay high off my line and cover the space in behind," Lampson said during the halftime interview on the CSN+ broadcast. "Honestly, it's just unlucky. I'm going in and, I haven't seen it yet, I think his head just hit my shoulder. That's just part of the game. I'm sorry for Kudo and I wish him all the best. Obviously I'm not that type of player."

Perez subbed on to replace Kudo in the 19th minute.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic went back to a five-defender lineup with Joao Meira making his first start since March 19 against Columbus. Joey Calistri also made his first professional start, joining Igboananike up top in place of Gilberto, and had a pair of shots on goal. Gilberto was limited in training last week with a hamstring injury so not playing may not be a long-term demotion, but rather a move to ease him back to full health.

Matt Polster, on his way back from a calf injury that forced him to miss the April 30 match against D.C. United, came on as a halftime substitute for Michael Stephens.

The Fire have now gone winless in 28 straight matches on the road, which is a league record. They can snap that losing streak on Saturday when they take on New England, one of two other teams in the league with more matches played than points.

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

city-trophy-epl.jpg
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

katai.jpg
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.