Fire fall flat in U.S. Open Cup semifinal

Fire fall flat in U.S. Open Cup semifinal

Entering Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal at New England, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said it was the 'game of the season' for his team.

If that was the case, his line may have been fitting in a way he didn't intend. The 3-1 loss to the Revolution was a microcosm of the season in a number of ways.

The Fire struggled on the road in the cup like they have on the road in Major League Soccer this season. The Fire have lost nine in a row on the road in MLS and struggled on Tuesday just like in two road defeats at Gillette Stadium in league play.

New England took the lead via a Kei Kamara penalty kick in the 16th minute. Rodrigo Ramos tripped Kelyn Rowe just inside the box with the Revolution midfielder actually going away from goal.

The Fire’s hero, even if only for a short period, was yet again David Accam. Accam scored his fifth goal of this Open Cup in four matches to tie for the golden boot race in the competition. Michael de Leeuw slid to win a loose ball in the box and direct it to Accam. From there, the Ghanaian put some moves on in the box to get free and score from close range.

However, in a fitting summation of the Fire’s year, New England regained the lead two minutes after Accam’s goal. Kei Kamara headed a corner kick towards the goal, but it was blocked. Je-Vaughn Watson nodded in the loose ball in the 42nd minute.

The loss, which was the Fire’s fourth semifinal Open Cup loss in four years, will go down as a missed opportunity for the Fire. A win would have meant hosting the final and winning the cup would have marked a significant milestone in the turnaround of the club.

Instead, the same problems that have plagued the Fire all year showed up in the loss. The Fire started slow, struggled to keep possession, created few chances and were forced to scramble defensively. The Fire’s attack came to life a bit in the second half, mostly through Accam and John Goossens, but few times did they truly challenged goalkeeper Brad Knighton. Then Teal Bunbury sealed the deal with a long-range shot that tucked inside the far corner in the 85th minute.

Accam showed some of his frustration in a harsh challenge on Rowe in the final minutes. The two then got into a bickering match with some shoves involved. Accam got sent off, with Rowe receiving a yellow card, and kicked some of the sideboards on his way out.

The Fire now face a tough reality in the final two and a half months of the season. The team is now out of the cup and, with the worst record in MLS, playoff hopes remain slim. The final third of the season could end up being a tryout for 2017 with the Fire holding club options on most of the roster.

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.