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Fire finish undefeated preseason with win against Portland

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Fire finish undefeated preseason with win against Portland

Wins in preseason don't ultimately mean anything, but wins of any kind for a team that finished last in the league a year ago are a welcome change.

The Chicago Fire beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night at Providence Park in Portland. The win wrapped up the Simple Invitational title and an undefeated preseason for the Fire.

Arturo Alvarez and Gilberto, two of the more prominent names in the Fire attack throughout the preseason, scored goals in the first half.

Portland, the reigning MLS Cup champions, had the run of play early in the first half, but Alvarez scored to put the Fire in front on the team's first good chance. In the 28th minute Michael Harrington whipped a cross in from the right that found the head of Alvarez, who scored with a glancing header.

Gilberto doubled the lead when an Alvarez free kick went into the penalty box. Gilberto eventually controlled it and nutmegged Portland goalkeeper Adam Kawarsey to double the lead.

[MORE: Section 8 doing its own work ahead of Fire home opener]

From a lineup standpoint, coach Veljko Paunovic chose what appeared to be close to a first choice lineup although David Accam and Sean Johnson sat out for the second straight match. Most interestingly was that three natural center backs, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell, all started.

The formation was still listed as a 4-2-3-1, but it more closely resembled a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2. The three central defenders were flanked by Brandon Vincent and Harrington, but those two had more freedom to attack wide with the extra defender to cover. When the Fire needed to defend, which was the case for most of the match, Vincent and Harrington dropped back to form a five-man back line.

Both of the outside backs also created chances from the flanks. Harrington assisted on the first goal and Vincent had a shot go off the frame of the goal in the 51st minute.

Without getting too much into the specifics of the tactics, Saturday's match provided an example of the versatility Paunovic has repeatedly said is so important. Being able to change formations depending on the opponent and the situation in the match has been high on Paunovic's priority list from a philosophical standpoint. The Fire showed what he was talking about on Saturday.

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In a more general sense, the preseason was a success for the Fire. Not that wins and losses are meaningful in the preseason, but for a team that needs an identity and some confidence, going undefeated in the preseason can't hurt.

Next up is a regular season MLS match. The Fire take on New York City FC at Toyota Park on March 6 at 1 p.m. CT. The match will be televised on CSN Chicago.

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.