Fire

Fire appear loaded with depth at outside back

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Fire appear loaded with depth at outside back

Over and over again Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has harped on how center back has been the club’s priority this offseason.

However, outside back might be the position that has undergone the biggest overhaul for both the short-term and long-term future of the Fire.

From last year’s team, Lovel Palmer and Greg Cochrane had their options declined, Joevin Jones was traded and Eric Gehrig, who played some at right back last year, appears more destined to play at center back this season. Only Patrick Doody, who spent most of 2015 on loan with Saint Louis FC and made just seven appearances with the Fire as a rookie, is a returning outside back.

In this year’s draft, the Fire grabbed Stanford left back Brandon Vincent with the fourth pick. That meant competition for Doody, who showed promise at left back in his rookie season. When asked about the competition for playing time after training on Monday, Doody gave the politically correct answer that he would play wherever needed and explained he has played on the right.

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“I am left footed, but I have played both sides,” Doody said. “It’s the same position, it’s just inverted. I think most guys at this level should have the ability to play either. If you’re an outside back you should be able to do OK at each side.”

That versatility could come in handy for Doody, but there also appears to be a lot of competition at right back. Free agent signing Michael Harrington, another left-footed player, has experience playing at both outside back spots and is a nine-year league veteran. He figures to get plenty of playing time this season.

“Left or right,” Harrington said. “It doesn’t matter. Either one.”

[MORE: New faces all over Fire training camp]

Third round pick Vincent Keller played center back and right back at Creighton, but is sliding over to right back as a pro because he is only 5-foot-9. It also appears that 2015 second round pick Kingsley Bryce is now a right back.

Bryce played forward in college at St. Louis University. Last year on loan with Saint Louis FC, Bryce played both midfield and defense. When asked what his position was on Monday Bryce answered without hesitation that he is a right back.

It’s not hard to see why the Fire could see the 22-year-old Bryce as a good option for right back. He’s 6-feet tall, fast and athletic at a position that requires tons of running up and down the sideline. At least physically, he seems capable of handling the demands of an outside back, but the position move isn’t an easy one.

“It’s tough,” Bryce said. “You have to learn to play where they need you. I’m still learning to play out of the back, but I think it helps that I know how to play forward so when I attack it’s something familiar to me.”

So, for now at least, it appears the Fire have five options at outside back. Harrington, 30, is the only veteran of the group, considering even Doody is still largely unproven.

Center back may be the club’s priority as far as acquiring new players, but outside back might be the most interesting competition in training camp.

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.