Fire

Bliss: Fire 'should be playing for self-pride, plus the fans'

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Bliss: Fire 'should be playing for self-pride, plus the fans'

When the final whistle sounded at BMO Field on Saturday night, the Chicago Fire's fluctuating season and playoff chances, albeit improbable, were officially halted.

After extensive changes to the technical staff on the heels of a 1-0 setback to Orlando City SC on Sept. 19, the team's most recent stay in Canada yielded back-to-back defeats to the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, spelling another taxing month for the Men in Red.

A club-record 18th loss at the weekend was enough to mathematically eliminate the team from postseason play, but Fire interim coach Brian Bliss insists morale has not wavered.     

“We didn’t get a lot of time in terms of training, but the guys seem to be willing, good-spirited, up for the challenge," Bliss told reporters Monday via teleconference. "In this situation, with as many losses that have mounted up, usually you’ve got a lot of finger pointing and divisiveness in the locker room. That doesn’t seem to be the case at least from what I’ve noticed. Wished we would have had more time at home to do some training prior to, but the flipside was we got a lot of togetherness while on the road, and maybe that was a good thing, too."

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The Fire finished September with five consecutive losses, four of which came away from Toyota Park and three that saw Bliss' group maintain a lead. Ultimately, a collective commitment to defense and attack was lacking, and, with three regular season matches left to play, dignity and a responsibility to perform for an upset fanbase is on the line.         

“That’s always the case, you hear that in any sport when you get down to it," Bliss added when asked if the next month serves as an audition for roster spots come 2016. "Coaches want to come out and pound a table and say, ‘You’re fighting for your jobs next year.’ I don’t want to go down that path because I don’t want to get into a position where I’m trying to threaten guys into trying to play better or buy into what we’re trying to do. They’ve got to find their own way to do that and show that.

"Guys are trying to play for next year, but they also should be playing for themselves and a little bit of self-pride, plus the fans. That’s what they should be rallying around, not so much rallying around a job.” 

[RELATED: 'Detail oriented' GM Nelson Rodriguez a welcome addition to Fire]

Injury notes:

- Ty Harden suffered a groin strain, and had to step out of training on Friday prior to the Toronto game. "He was a late scratch from the lineup," Bliss said, "and probably in the same boat heading into the weekend [vs. New England Revolution].”

- Following his return from ACL surgery, Patrick Nyarko was replaced by Joevin Jones at the 55-minute mark after sustaining a knock. “Patrick had a collision in the first half that caused some swelling and some pain on the outside of his knee," Bliss added. "I believe he’ll be fine going into Thursday’s training and should be available for the weekend.”

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.