Fire

Fire finally land the big one in Bastian Schweinsteiger

Fire finally land the big one in Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger is going to play for the Chicago Fire.

That sentence being true isn't a big surprise after four months of rumors, but it still may feel odd.

After years of rumors, failed acquisitions and near misses, the Fire finally got a big name. From the Jermaine Jones blind draw to Montreal beating the Fire to Didier Drogba and even the near-signing of Alejandro Bedoya last year, the Fire have been rumored to add notable players on a few occasions in the last few years. This time the Fire finalized the deal and now have a marquee name for the first time since Cuauhtemoc Blanco played for the team from 2007-2009.

The move is an obvious marketing boon for the club. Schweinsteiger is a world famous player who has played for two of the biggest, most well-known and supported teams in the world in Bayern Munich and Manchester United. He has nearly 4 million Twitter followers (which is 35 times what the Fire's official account has).

Scan the internet for reaction to the signing and there is a scattering of 'I have to go to a game now' comments. That's what the Fire are going for.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Schweinsteiger may be the biggest name to ever play for the Fire.

"I think that there have been other great players who have worn red," Rodriguez said. "Players such as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Hristo Stoichkov, Peter Nowak… with respect to all of those people I think Bastian is just another strata. It's a result of his having won with every team with which he played. He captured every major trophy for which he's contested. There's not many people in all of sports that can make similar claims."

Stoichkov won the 1994 Ballon d’Or, a world player of the year award, and scored the most goals in the 1994 World Cup so Rodriguez's claim may be dubious, but the point is Schweinsteiger's resume is in the upper tier of players.

On the other side, there are questions about how effective he will be for this team and how he will fit in. Schweinsteiger hasn't played a single Premier League match for Man U this season. He has played four cup games, but it's fair to wonder about the health and effectiveness of the 32-year-old. That said, just because a player can't get on the field for Manchester United doesn't mean he can't still be good enough to be effective for an MLS team.

"Bastian is bringing his quality as a person, as a human and his experience in the locker room," coach Veljko Paunovic said after training on Tuesday. "He's also very professional and there are many proofs for that. I don't think that I have to tell the people who we are bringing in our environment. It's just that we know for sure that he is going to be successful here. He is going to help our locker room grow, learn and win. With all the qualities that he brings on and off the field, I think it's enough for us to have a man and a leader in the locker room that can take us to have a great experience this year."

There have been plenty of big name players to join Major League Soccer past their prime. Some have succeeded (Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, David Villa) and some have not (Rafa Marquez, Freddie Ljungberg, Torsten Frings).

The comparison being mentioned most is Steven Gerrard. Gerrard played the same position as Schweinsteiger and joined the LA Galaxy from Liverpool in 2015 at age 35, three years older than Schweinsteiger is now. He made 34 appearances in a season and a half in MLS and totaled five goals and 14 assists, but struggled to cover ground defensively. Would the Fire be happy if Schweinsteiger turned out to be another Gerrard in MLS?

The timing of the move adds an extra twist considering the Fire just got thumped at expansion team Atlanta, a club which spent tons of money but did so on young South American talent. Not many soccer fans in America had previously heard of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez or Hector Villalba, but Saturday's 4-0 win against the Fire showed all three are among the best talents in MLS and make Atlanta both a contender and a fun team to watch, making name recognition moot.

The best example of younger talent paying dividends is Seattle paying up to land midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro in the middle of last season. Lodeiro was 27 when Seattle signed him and he led the Sounders' turnaround from a team on the brink of falling out of playoff contention into MLS Cup champs.

In a time when the league has started to eschew older talent in lieu of younger players that don't have the name recognition attached to them, the Fire bring in a 32-year-old who hasn't played a league match all season and has a recent history of knee injuries.

Schweinsteiger's quality in midfield has been proven throughout his career and if he still has something left in his knees, he will be a good MLS player. How good and how much better does he make the Fire? That's the $4.5 million question.

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.