Fire

Drew Conner brings versatility to Fire

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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.

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.