Drew Conner brings versatility to Fire


Drew Conner brings versatility to Fire

Drew Conner doesn’t know what his role will be with the Chicago Fire, but he is confident he can fill a number of different ones.

Conner, a Cary native, was a four-year starter at Wisconsin, but moved around the midfield in his time with the Badgers. His primary and preferred role was as a defensive midfielder, but said he also played out wide and as an attacking midfielder during his sophomore season.

“I’ve played pretty much everywhere in the midfield for Wisconsin,” Conner said. “I think I could also play maybe in the wide back positions as well. I think that’s one of my upsides as a player, just my versatility and the fact that I can play both ways.”

[MORE FIRE: New homegrown signing Joey Calistri has long history with Fire]

That versatility could help him earn playing time with the Fire sooner, especially considering his preferred defensive midfield role is occupied by Rookie of the Year finalist Matt Polster. That’s just fine with Conner.

“Obviously when you take a step up to the next level you’re never going to play your normal position,” Conner said. “A lot of times you’re going to have to adjust so I’m ready for wherever they see me best.”

Conner said he has played soccer since he could kick a ball and his father, Tom Conner, has had a big influence on his game. Tom Conner played at Eastern Illinois under former FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman and was a part of the Panthers’ 1981 Final Four squad.

“This has kind of been both of our dreams,” Drew Conner said. “He’s been there by my side the whole way. It was a special moment when I got the call. Madison is only two hours away from where I live so he drove up from Cary and we went out for dinner and it was great.”

His dad wasn’t the only one to share the big moment with him. When the call came from technical director Brian Bliss, general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic, Drew Conner was watching TV in his Madison apartment with friends.

“The call came and I had to shush everyone,” Drew Conner said. “There were like eight other guys in the room so it was a fun moment. It was a bit overwhelming just to talk to all those guys, hear the news and hear all of them talk.”

[MORE FIRE: Fire sign homegrown players Joey Calistri, Drew Conner]

Drew Conner noted, like fellow new homegrown signing Joey Calistri, that both Paunovic and Rodriguez were both high energy and optimistic of a turnaround at the club. However, Bliss was a pleasant familiar voice to hear.

“It was cool getting the call from Bliss, too, because he was my PDL coach this summer,” Drew Conner said. “He’s been awesome with me and I learned a lot playing from him this summer.”

Bliss wasn’t the only Fire coach that Drew Conner credited with his development. He raved about playing under recently departed Academy director Larry Sunderland.

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“Larry Sunderland did an outstanding job developing me as a player,” Drew Conner said. “I can’t stress enough how much Larry did for me as a player. I don’t think if I wouldn’t have come into the Academy at 14 and had Larry for four years that I would be in this place.”

Drew Conner is staying fit until the preseason starts, but first he has to worry about finals. After signing his contract on Thursday he had one more final and one paper still to complete. He said he will be about 16 credits short of graduating with a degree in life sciences communications after leaving after this semester.

“I’m just excited to elevate my game by surrounding my game with professional players,” he said.

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.