Fire defender Jonathan Campbell not buying into rookie wall

Fire defender Jonathan Campbell not buying into rookie wall

The ‘rookie wall’ is something that often gets trumpeted as a narrative in various sports.

As professional seasons go longer, rookies enter uncharted territory for how long they’ve been in-season. Sometimes performance takes a dip and the ‘rookie wall’ is to blame. Some growing pains occur and adjustments to the rigors of a long professional season are made.

The Chicago Fire entered the season with six young players new to Major League Soccer on the roster, three of which have earned fairly regular playing time. Brandon Vincent began the season as a spot starter before earning more consistent minutes lately. Rodrigo Ramos was a regular earlier in the season, but hasn’t played in the past six MLS matches. Jonathan Campbell earned his starting spot at centerback very quickly and hasn’t given it up since.

Even Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez gave his own version of the rookie wall when talking about young players like Ramos and Campbell.

“I think Jonathan Campbell continues to give everything he has,” Rodriguez said on Thursday. “I just think he’s tired. I think he’s mentally tired, but even in the game against D.C. where the backline struggled under the weight of playing with 10 men and three games in eight days, he still gave everything he had. He’s a smart enough young man to start to learn, ‘I have to play differently when I’m tired.’ I see progress there in a moment where the result was difficult.”

While Rodriguez didn’t explicitly say Campbell’s performance has dropped, he did say the North Carolina product was tired. That’s not how Campbell sees it though.

The Fire’s 6-2 loss at D.C. last weekend was the team’s third match in eight days. Midfielder Khaly Thiam picked up a red card in the first half, which put more stress on an already stretched team. Campbell thinks that had more to do with any signs of fatigue than the long season.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say hitting a wall,” Campbell said after Saturday's 3-0 win against Philadelphia. “I think it’s just when you have games really tight, obviously a lot of people are going to be tired at this point and when you have three games in (eight) days I think everyone will be feeling it. After you’ve been playing for a whole season it’s going to be very difficult. I think those points are just really hard and you have to do a lot with recovery.”

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Campbell is second on the Fire both in games played (25) and games started (23), only behind Johan Kappelhof by one in each category. The Fire have asked a lot of the rookie defender and for the most part he has answered the call.

Campbell says he has put a lot of focus on recovery and doing all the right things to prepare his body for the grind of a professional athlete. The veteran goalkeeper behind him, Sean Johnson, has noticed that.

“I think he’s a model professional,” Johnson said of Campbell. “Even though it’s his first year he does everything he can to make sure he’s the best he can be when he steps on the pitch. For us to support him as a first-year player, he’s done a fantastic job so he’ll do what he can to recover and be 100 percent every single game.”

Adjusting to the little things in preparing for each match and day of training is something Campbell says he has prioritized.

“From the beginning I’ve tried to focus a lot on recovery, just doing things off the field and making sure that I’m ready for the next practice, the next game,” Campbell said. “Mainly I was just trying to stay very consistent with that so it hasn’t changed too much, but it’s pretty difficult to maintain doing that day in, day out.”

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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


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, 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.