Drew Conner back to 'grinding' with Fire after St. Louis loan

Drew Conner back to 'grinding' with Fire after St. Louis loan

Homegrown rookie Drew Conner hasn’t played a competitive game for the Chicago Fire yet, but he has been able to gain professional experience and playing time.

Conner began the season on loan with Saint Louis FC, the Fire’s affiliate in the United Soccer League. He racked up 12 appearances, totaling 462 minutes, before being recalled to the Fire in mid-June.

Conner came up during a time when the Fire were thin in midfield due to injuries. With Saint Louis, he played both defensive and attacking midfield. He has stayed with the Fire even now that the team has been healthier. Coach Veljko Paunovic said the Fire were impressed with Conner’s progression.

“We believe in him,” Paunovic said in June after Conner was recalled. “We are watching every single game he played with Saint Louis. We know what is going on there because we have very good communication with the club and he is a project and this is a part of the project.”

Conner came off the bench six times and didn’t play a full 90 minutes in any match. Conner was on the Fire bench for the first game after he was recalled, at Philadelphia on June 22. He did not play and has not made a matchday lineup since.

The 22-year-old’s struggles to get minutes with the Fire are why the team sent him out on loan in the first place.

“I didn’t look at it necessarily as a negative,” Conner said. “It’s part of my development as a pro. I’m going down there and just training everyday and actually getting minutes, whereas it would have been a lot tougher in the beginning of the season for me (with the Fire). Now I’m back and fighting and grinding everyday.”

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Conner said the biggest adjustment for him coming out of college at Wisconsin was the speed of the game, especially mentally. The other big change was playing in front of big crowds, which is something Conner clearly enjoys from the way he talks about it.

Saint Louis FC is averaging around 5,000 fans per game and some of the away crowds, Conner mentioned Sacramento, impressed the Cary native.

“I remember in preseason my first game dressing was against the Portland Timbers, who has one of the craziest crowds,” Conner said. “They were selling out their preseason games. I was looking around like ‘Yo, this is crazy.’ So going down to St. Louis and being in front of their supporters’ group, the St. Louligans, and just playing in front of live drums and people screaming and stuff kind of prepared me to step up to this level.”

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The other thing that has stood out to Conner so far is the schedule. College soccer only plays in the fall while the MLS regular season schedule runs from March through the end of October. The longer season and extra travel takes its toll, but the cramped schedule of college was challenging in a different way.

“I just think they do a really good job of managing your body here,” Conner said. “[In college] you would play a game on Friday and then you would train on Saturday and then you would play Sunday. Sometimes that Saturday session wasn’t easy, which kind of made a lot of the players mad sometimes. That was just kind of the college mentality. You go out and grind every single day, whereas here you get to manage your body. You’re not as tired all the time.”

With the Fire roster as healthy as it has been all season, playing time with the Fire may not be easy to come by for Conner. For now he is just trying to learn, whether that be with the Fire or back with Saint Louis FC.

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

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


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, 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.