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Fire approach halfway point of 2015, face stern test in Sounders

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Fire approach halfway point of 2015, face stern test in Sounders

At the start of the MLS season, scoring woes left a beleaguered Chicago Fire brooding over the deep-seated issue as the likes of David Accam, and forwards Kennedy Igboananike, Guly do Prado and Jason Johnson struggled to leave an imprint on their new club.

On paper, the pool of offseason signings justifiably led many beholders, as well as head coach Frank Yallop, to believe last year's ninth place finish would be superseded by a fresh and redesigned vision in mind. Through 16 games, that vision hasn't exactly come to fruition quite yet.

Languishing in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Fire's scoring problem isn't a secret to many. Having bagged 18 league goals in 2015, the figure signifies the lowest total in the East despite averaging a league-leading 14.6 shots per game. 

"It's haunted us a little bit this season and giving up goals in the wrong times in games," Yallop said Thursday. "We've talked about it; we've worked on it, we've just got to maintain that."

While that hurdle has yet to be overcome, Yallop has another problem on his hands ahead of his team's cross-conference clash with Western Conference co-leaders Seattle Sounders FC Saturday at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. on CSN).

[RELATED: As injuries pile up, Yallop mulls interest in transfer window]

"We're short a few guys, too," he added. "They have a good squad. It's always a tough game against Seattle; they're very well-coached. They've got a gritty demeanor to their team, so we've got to be ready to fight that and try to win at home, which, again, no matter who's playing for us, we want to to win. It's no different this game." 

Since forcefully dispatching the Montreal Impact, 3-0, the Men in Red dropped four league matches in a row before grabbing a well-earned point in a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo last Friday. In that time frame, Accam and Joevin Jones were called in for international duty, the former emerging with a hamstring injury as a result. An MRI confirmed a bulging disc in Shaun Maloney's lower back. Captain Jeff Larentowicz was also ruled out through a herniated disc in his neck while Adaílton limped out of BBVA Compass Stadium with a groin strain in the 71st minute.

Ahead of Saturday's meeting, an injury-laden Sounders outfit - like the Fire - enters the match with absences of its own. Clint Dempsey (USA), Brad Evans (USA) and former Fire midfielder Marco Pappa (Guatemala) are participating in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in progress, while Nigerian forward Obafemi Martins continues his recovery from an adductor injury sustained June 17. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei will also be unavailable after suffering a sprained shoulder on Friday against D.C. United, leaving the seasoned Troy Perkins odds-on to get the nod from Sigi Schmid. 

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As for the Men in Red, Adaílton worked with fitness coach Adrian Lamb on Thursday, joined in training Friday as the team engaged in light, pre-match preparation, and will be put through a fitness test Saturday morning. Should the Brazilian not be able to go, Eric Gehrig and Matt Polster would be the preferred center back pairing. 

"We need bodies; we need good defenders and he's one of those guys," Yallop said of Adaílton. "Hopefully he'll be OK for at least some type of minutes maybe on the weekend, but for sure on Wednesday."

Accam, meanwhile, could get time as a substitute, but it's still "touch-and-go right now," according to Yallop. But despite setbacks to several of Yallop's top players, the resurgence of Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko will undoubtedly benefit a group of players eager to win its first MLS encounter with the Rave Green in nine previous attempts, as the Windy City meets the Emerald City in front of an expected sell-out crowd at Toyota Park.     

"I want us to be pushing on and pressurizing Seattle, it doesn't matter what our lineup is; it's irrelevant," Yallop said. "We've lost a couple in a row at home in the league and we don't want that to happen anymore. We want to put our line in the sand, and say 'No more.' We want to get a good result no matter how we play. We need to win this game, get our guys back healthy and we'll look better for the rest of the year."

The first 5,000 fans in attendance at Toyota Park will receive a Fire ballcap courtesy of The PrivateBank. The Fire will also be celebrating Chicago Soccer Heritage Night.  

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.