Fire

Fire all-stars have plenty of ties to Real Madrid ahead of MLS All-Star Game

Fire all-stars have plenty of ties to Real Madrid ahead of MLS All-Star Game

Since switching away from the East vs. West format, the MLS All-Star Game has always walked the line between pure entertainment and something resembling a competitive game.

Powerhouse teams from Europe in the middle of their preseason have taken on the MLS All-Stars. While the European visitors aren’t yet going full speed while they gear up for the upcoming season, the MLS All-Stars have something to prove with the pride of their league on the line.

This year, Chicago gets to watch the MLS All-Stars take on Real Madrid, winner of the past two UEFA Champions League titles, Wednesday at Soldier Field.

There’s a strong Chicago Fire contingent on the MLS All-Stars with the Fire coaching staff leading a team that includes four Fire players, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and Dax McCarty. The group had its first training session together Monday at UIC.

“They are all very good players obviously, but also good persons and that makes it even more enjoyable,” Schweinsteiger said. “Of course you need a little bit of time to adjust to everyone to know exactly the passing and how the players want the ball. Every player you can see that is able to play soccer on the highest level and that’s what we need for Wednesday.”

While the players went through Fire coach Veljko Paunovic’s drills on Monday, it was clear training didn’t have the same feel to it as a regular training session for a club team would. The players are simply trying to get to know each other and trying to keep it loose as well.

“It’s fun,” Nikolic said. “It needs to be fun because I think we need to enjoy this moment, but also on the other hand in soccer you can not make the joke from these kind of games. You need to go hard, you need to give your maximum.”

Nikolic played Real Madrid twice in last season’s Champions League when he was still with Legia Warsaw. Nikolic’s Legia side lost in Madrid 5-1 before tying them 3-3 in Poland.

“It was a big experience for me to play in the Santiago Bernabeu,” Nikolic said. “I have a feeling at that time, that they are so good that in every single moment, when they want, they can score goals.”

Schweinsteiger, who is captaining the MLS All-Stars after winning a fan vote, has also had some clashes with Madrid over the years as a player for Bayern Munich. One of his former German national team teammates, Toni Kroos, is currently on Real Madrid.

“I always enjoyed playing against Real Madrid,” Schweinsteiger said. “They were always big matches and I’m looking forward (to the game) of course.”

Paunovic spent much of his playing career for Madrid’s local rival, Atletico Madrid. That rivalry has gained more of an international spotlight recently with the two Madrid clubs meeting in two Champions League finals in the past four years. Real Madrid won both of those, one in penalty kicks and one in extra time.

The ultra-competitive coach wouldn’t talk about the light-hearted aspect of the All-Star Game. He talked about Real Madrid like he will probably talk about the New England Revolution when the Fire turn their attention to that game, which will take place Saturday.

“For us, professionals, there are no exhibitions, no friendly games,” Paunovic said. “We always compete and the first thing that we are competing with is ourselves. When you’re on the field, when you feel the crowd, you feel you’re actually engaged 100 percent and you know you have to perform and you know you have to give your best. That’s the first challenge that you have to face. Then obviously you have an opponent like Real Madrid, there is no other team (like them). There are a lot of great teams in the world, but when you have the opportunity to play against Real Madrid, it’s an occasion that you just cannot let go.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

katai.jpg
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

kap.jpg
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.