Fire

Fire acquire striker Nemanja Nikolic as Designated Player

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AP

Fire acquire striker Nemanja Nikolic as Designated Player

Since the middle of last season Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has spoken about two key needs for the team: an experienced midfielder and a key creator/scorer.

Rodriguez and the Fire have identified and acquired a player who they view as that scorer. The Fire have acquired striker Nemanja Nikolic from Legia Warsaw, the reigning Polish champions announced.

The Fire announced the move later on Tuesday afternoon, confirming Nikolic will take up a Designated Player spot, joining winger David Accam to make two on the team. Nikolic signed a three-year contract and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said a seven-figure transfer fee was involved.

"From the moment the club expressed interest and especially after speaking with manager Veljko Paunovic, and although I had other offers, this is where I wanted to be,” Nikolic said in the Fire's press release.


Nikolic, who turns 29 on New Year’s Eve, led the Ekstraklasa with 28 goals last season. That was the most anyone had scored in the league in 20 years. He helped Legia win the double, taking both the league and cup titles in Poland.

"Nemanja was one of our top priorities this offseason and a player we had been tracking for the better part of seven to eight months," Rodriguez said over the phone from Poland via a conference call after the Fire announced the signing. "He represents one of the types of game breakers that we sought in this offseason."

In 86 matches with Legia Warsaw, Nikolic scored 56 times, including five in six UEFA Champions League qualifying matches to get Legia into the Champions League group stage. Nikolic played in five of the six Champions League group matches, making two starts and scoring one goal. Legia Warsaw was third in its group behind Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.

Nikolic scored five goals in his last two matches for Legia, including a hat trick in his finale. He was named to the Ekstraklasa team of the week in his last game.

Nikolic is Serbian-born, but has represented Hungary at the international level. He has three goals in 23 caps for Hungary, including two substitute appearances at Euro 2016.

He joined the Polish capital club from Hungarian club Videoton following the 2014-15 season. When he was at Videoton he was a teammate of current Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez. Nikolic was with Videoton from 2010-2015 while Alvarez spent two and a half seasons there.

"The fact that he has already adapted to different countries, different playing styles, different languages makes us believe that he will adapt to Chicago and Major League Soccer," Rodriguez said. "While we are very confident in his ability to adapt we must all always be patient with new signings. It is still a man and human being who has a family and will need time to adjust culturally."

Rodriguez added that Nikolic speaks four languages. He was born in Serbia and speaks Serbian, Hungarian, Polish and English.

The process of identifying and scouting Nikolic began last spring when the Fire were pursuing another player in the Polish league. Rodriguez said the league was underrated so they followed it more closely.

"In that course we noticed Nemanja and his abilities so we tracked him," Rodriguez said. "We had Matt Pearson, our scout, see him play live twice this fall. Then Pauno went to see him play live at the conclusion of our season as well. The live reports married what we felt we had been observing through video and through following full games on television and online."

Nikolic’s goal-scoring track record should translate well to Major League Soccer, although it should be noted that Legia Warsaw is one of the biggest clubs in Poland (11 league titles and 18 cup titles since 1955). It’s easier to score goals when part of a team that is usually creating more chances. Compare that to the Fire, which were last in MLS in shots on target last season.

Still, an attack led by Nikolic, Michael de Leeuw and David Accam sounds good on paper. The Fire’s next priority should be getting that experienced midfielder Rodriguez has mentioned so Nikolic and de Leeuw will have chances.

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.