Fire

Bliss talks 2016 roster outlook; CHIvNY start time pushed back

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Bliss talks 2016 roster outlook; CHIvNY start time pushed back

The issues are mounting for the Fire with the offseason around the corner.

After a second-half unraveling in the lopsided 4-0 loss at D.C. United, the task of righting the ship under the direction of interim coach Brian Bliss and Nelson Rodríguez, who began his tenure as general manager on Monday, is turning into an increasingly uphill battle. The performance was "the furthest from what we expected" in comparison to the respectable fight and grit on display during Bliss' first two games in charge in narrow losses at the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC in late September.

But the defeat at RFK Stadium was the heaviest of the Men in Red's troubled campaign by a considerable margin, having conceded four goals for the second time since experiencing a 4-3 setback to the Montreal Impact on Sept. 5.

As a result, the Fire (8-19-6, 30 points) became the seventh team in MLS history to finish the regular season without an away victory. 

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“That’s always the case when your team has not performed to the capabilities that you thought, and (when) you look at the whole season, inevitably there’s going to be change," Bliss said Tuesday via teleconference when asked whether Sunday's match would be the last for some players in a Fire uniform. "I would think some guys probably have pretty much close to played their last game. Which guys those are, those will still remain within the club until we can have the final discussion internally and communicate that to some of the players. But guys are pretty perceptive; they know sometimes when the end of the line is coming, that’s just the way it is. That’s something for an internal discussion.

"The words after the game on the bus before we pulled out were pretty much, ‘that’s not us,’ ‘unacceptable,’ ‘you’ve got to look at your own game and where you came up a little bit short,’ and ‘we’ve got to find a way to get back to where we were the previous games in terms of our mentality,’ because it wasn’t about ability, it was mentality. And I don’t think we had, for whatever reason, the right one going in, which was surprising based on the home game against New England.”

As he looks ahead to the regular season finale against Supporters' Shield-chasing New York Red Bulls (17-10-6, 57 points) and beyond, Bliss reiterated his vision of how many changes must occur to the roster for the club to be competitive come 2016.  

“A couple might be a bit too few, I would say," he added. "Again, I use the term ‘tweaking.’ I tend to think tweaking is more like three or four. When I use the term ‘overhaul,’ or any coach or technical director uses the term 'overhaul,' it usually means 8, 9, 10, or 11 changes. I still think it’s in the tweaking mode, which to me is three or four, of which probably three have to be starters.”

[RELATED: Fire Homegrown player Collin Fernandez building toward 2016]

Magee omitted from D.C. trip 

Limited to just three MLS starts and two appearances in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action because of injury, forward Mike Magee was excluded from the team's excursion to the nation's capital.   

“I think that was a little bit more his," Bliss said of the decision to leave Magee behind. "He came to me at the end of the week, and said he wanted to focus on health and strengthening, and I’ve got to respect that. I’ve got to deal with that as it comes, and that was near the end of the week of training."

Along with defender Ty Harden and midfielder Matt Watson, the 2013 MLS MVP will be out of contract next week. Should he opt to sign on for another season, Magee, who grossed $467,500 in guaranteed compensation this year, according to the MLS Players' Union, will likely have to take a sizable pay cut to remain with the club. The Chicago native had recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the handling of his recovery, but is not on his way out yet.   

“He hasn’t expressed any interest either way about staying or leaving in any conversations that I’ve had. I am aware at least going back to the end of June and early into July where he was disenchanted with some of the medical. I don’t know the exact timeline of events; I do know what happened in that window where he felt that some steps were missed, but I still believe that our doctors were on it, and were giving him the best medical care. That’s the only thing I can say, but I was aware of it, yes.”

[MORE FIRE: Fire ink multi-year jersey partnership deal with Valspar]

Chicago-New York start time pushed back

MLS confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Sunday's Eastern Conference showdown at Toyota Park between the Fire and Red Bulls will be pushed back from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to allow both Supporters' Shield contenders to kick off simultaneously. FC Dallas hosts the San Jose Earthquakes at Toyota Stadium. 

"We created Decision Day to ensure that we have the most compelling and competitively-driven matches played simultaneously on the final day of our regular season," MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement. "Changing the time of the Fire-Red Bulls match fulfills our vision, and will provide an exciting finish to our Supporters' Shield race."

The game will be broadcast on CSN, with former Fire forward Brian McBride joining play-by-play commentator Dan Kelly as the color analyst, and will also be aired on ESPN3.

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.