Fire

Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line

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Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line

As player acquisitions trickle in for the Chicago Fire, forward is a position that has been left mostly untouched and untalked about.

Returning as strikers are Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike. David Accam will probably line up as a striker on occasion, but will also play out wide. Despite the relatively low number of forwards, general manager Nelson Rodriguez has said nothing of acquiring another forward, instead focusing on different positions.

Perhaps if the team typically lines up in a 4-2-3-1, which coach Veljko Paunovic called the team’s starting formation for now, a larger number of forwards won’t be as necessary. Either way, the limited number of forwards makes it appear rookie homegrown player Joey Calistri is in line to see some playing time as injuries, suspensions and national team absences inevitably occur throughout the season.

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Since signing his homegrown contract with the Fire in December, Calistri had spent time training at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch. With the start of the preseason last week, Calistri got his first taste of training under Paunovic.

“He’s given not only me but a lot of the guys that play attacking positions a lot of advice about, especially, where to position yourself on the field when we have the ball and how everybody rotates,” Calistri said. “I think I’ve learned a lot already in the first week and a lot more coming in the future.”

Calistri scored a goal in the small field scrimmage that ended training on Friday. That should serve as a confidence boost, but after admitting to nerves on the first day, Calistri appears to be full of confidence.

“I think you have to have that mentality a little bit that you belong here,” Calistri said. “Obviously you have to be humble, but at the same time I think everybody here deserves to be here. I think if you play like you deserve to be here then it’ll show.”

[MORE: Fire head to Tampa after first week of training]

The 22-year-old holds a communications degree from Northwestern and worked in the Fire’s communications office last summer. He recently received some pub as one of the top homegrown players to watch in MLS this season from SBISoccer.com.

“First of all, he’s a great kid,” Paunovic said. “Great soccer player. I think he is improving very well and he is working very hard. His attitude is great so we are very happy with him.”

Paunovic isn’t the only one Calistri will be learning from this season. The Fire’s three aforementioned attackers are all designated players, which makes Calistri the only unproven player at his position.

“They’re great personalities,” Calistri said of the likes of Gilberto and Accam. “I’m definitely going to be looking to learn from them, on and off the field, to learn what it’s like to be a professional at this level. I definitely think I can do that as the year goes on and that’s something that I’ll try to get better at as we go forward.”

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.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.