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Dutch pair find new home with the Fire

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Dutch pair find new home with the Fire

The life of a professional soccer player can take players to many different countries with very different cultures.

It's easy to become a fish out of water so when two Dutch players both signed with the Chicago Fire this offseason, it made for an easy friendship.

After training on Wednesday, John Goossens, who signed with the Fire following a preseason trial, and Johan Kappelhof, who transferred from Dutch club FC Groningen, were the last two to leave the field. They stayed several minutes after the session ended and hit cross-field passes to each other.

Goossens joined the Fire on trial in early February, midway through the team's stint in Tampa. Kappelhof's transfer became official on Feb. 2, but he didn't join camp until the team was in Portland for the final phase of the preseason.

“I was very happy that he came during my trial here," Goossens said. "It’s good to have somebody around who you can speak your own language.”

[MORE: Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez recalls busy offseason]

Despite enjoying the familiarity of being able to speak Dutch to each other, both are good English speakers. Both also played in the famed youth academy of Ajax in Amsterdam before beginning their professional careers elsewhere in the Netherlands.

Neither player has much history in the US. Goossens visited Florida on a vacation once while Kappelhof had never been in the country before joining the team in the preseason. Perhaps it was fitting that after arriving in Chicago on Sunday they were greeted with a snowstorm on Tuesday.

While knowledge of Major League Soccer in general was limited for both players, they made sure to do some research on the Internet.

“If I thought about MLS there’s a few clubs I know," Kappelhof said. "There’s Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls. I knew the club and for myself I look on the Internet for some more information.”

"It’s really hard to follow the league on television in Europe, but I was interested a couple years ago in MLS," Goossens said. "I started searching on the Internet and I’m excited to be here.”

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So far the Fire and the country have left a good impression on Goossens.

“Here in the US everything is so professional," Goossens said. "It’s a high level. Everything from cleats, the clothes onto the pitch, everything is high level. I’m really happy and satisfied with the situation.”

The way Goossens wound up with the Fire was a situation of who you know. Goossens' agent already knew Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez. They got in touch and Rodriguez asked for Goossens to come in on trial.

“I would love to tell you it was the work of brilliant scouting, but candidly it wasn’t," Rodriguez said. "It was more a product of having good relations of people who know me and know [coach Veljko Paunovic] who believe that John’s style would fit with what we are trying to do."

Goossens had been with FC Voluntari in Romania. He played the full 90 minutes in Voluntari's final match before the league's winter break on Dec. 21. He was out of contract in early January. He went back home and within two weeks the Fire called to offer the trial.

Along with Kappelhof, who is likely to start at center back in Sunday's season opener, Goossens appears to be a key addition to the Fire.

“His talent, his understanding of the game and his ability of scoring goals, assisting... it’s something that we need for this team," Paunovic said. "We saw in the games that he played that he can play in different systems, different positions. It’s a great addition for us."

Rodriguez wasn't just impressed with his on-field talent either.

"I must say John is an incredible professional," Rodriguez said. "He gets off the plane from traveling all night and Pauno says to him, ‘Would you like a day or two to rest, acclimate to the time zone and get ready?’ He said, ‘No sir, I came here to win a job.’ He did.”

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.