Fire

'Detail oriented' GM Nelson Rodriguez a welcome addition to Fire

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'Detail oriented' GM Nelson Rodriguez a welcome addition to Fire

When the Chicago Fire brought on Peter Wilt as the first general manager to help spearhead the club’s launch in 1998, the task of developing a winning culture and marketing an expansion team – on paper – seemed daunting.

After winning MLS Cup and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the inaugural season – the club instantaneously became one of MLS' most successful on and off the field. The Fire reached two more MLS Cup finals and bagged two more Open Cup trophies in Wilt's tenure, which brought out the best in fan culture through the eyes of a man who was the perfect blend of soccer fan and soccer businessman.

Since Wilt’s departure in 2005, the organization has not employed a general manager since. That is, until Sunday’s sweeping alterations brought some sought-after change to the front office with the announcement that longtime MLS executive Nelson Rodríguez will assume the position.

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After working with the league for upwards of 15 years and serving as caretaker president of now-defunct Chivas USA, Rodríguez currently operates as the managing director of national team advisory services with U.S. Soccer.  

“He’s been in the league as long as I have, probably, so he has as much knowledge of the workings of the league and how a team operates as anybody,” interim head coach Brian Bliss said of the new general manager. “He is very professional, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very detail oriented and he’s committed, and that’s what you need; guys who are willing to roll up their sleeves, plus he’s got the knowledge.”

Under the watchful gaze of U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, Rodríguez provides budding young U.S. talent and their families with advice on the nuts and bolts of being a professional player. The newly devised role – created by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann – puts Rodríguez in charge of offering information on nutrition, media training and time management, and several other aspects for players at various stages in their careers.

[RELATED: Interim head coach Brian Bliss looks to bring stability to Fire]

Rodríguez, whose hiring was strictly owner Andrew Hautpman’s decision, according to Bliss, will be tasked with leading the search for a new head coach, and will oversee technical staff management, scouting, player personnel, player development systems and the Academy with the Fire. With a varied resume, Rodríguez doesn’t have a learning curve, will fill an immediate need for the club and could take a considerable load off of Bliss.  

“I’ve known Nelson for 15, 18, 20 years probably and we have a lot of similar ideas about the game, about what a team looks and feels like and what a coaching role looks like,” Bliss added. “Hopefully, that serves him well and serves me well but we’ll cross that bridge later.

“There’s always room for guys to roll up their sleeves and work. Anybody that knows anything about our league and in general about American soccer, we all wear several hats, and we probably all work to a level where you wish there was an eighth day added to the week or a 13th month added to the calendar. However, last time I checked at the G8, they didn’t do that in the last summit. Receiving help and getting some workload taken off of not just me, but everybody, I’m sure is going to be welcome.”

Rodríguez will continue his duties with U.S. Soccer until he joins the Fire on Oct. 19. There is no scheduled media availability with him at this point, per a club spokesperson.  

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.