Fire to get early season test in Atlanta

Fire to get early season test in Atlanta

It hasn't taken long for Atlanta United to make an impression in MLS.

The expansion team spent a lot of money on its roster, is selling out Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium and leads the league in goals scored through two weekends.

Atlanta will provide the Chicago Fire with an early season test on Saturday. Both upstart teams are hoping to break into the postseason and Saturday's match in Atlanta will be a good early measuring stick.

"It's going to be a tough game," said Fire forward Michael de Leeuw, who said he watched both of Atlanta's games. "Full stadium I hope. And they're new. What they showed to now is good football. We're enjoying to go play against them, but we also started well so we're not scared or anything. I think it's going to be a great game."

Atlanta put up a six spot on Minnesota last Saturday in Minnesota's home opener in snow. Josef Martinez had a hat trick and Miguel Almiron had two goals and an assist. Those two 23-year-olds will be key players to watch for Atlanta, but they're not the only talents on the team.

Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, a pair of 22-year-old, speedy South American attackers, will also put the Fire's defense under pressure.

"Obviously they like going forward as fast as possible," midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. "We just got to make sure that we're organized defensively. At the same time I think we can hurt them. They will make turnovers. We just got to make sure that we're taking advantage of those."

[RELATED: Trip to Atlanta starts key four-game stretch for Fire]

While Atlanta's speed in attack definitely caught the attention of Fire players, so did the crowd of more than 55,000 for the season opener against the New York Red Bulls, a 2-1 win for the Red Bulls.

"The fans, the first game I watched on TV, looked pretty wild so I think the guys are looking forward to the fight and the challenge," defender Brandon Vincent said.

The challenge is stopping a talented team with a big crowd despite the Fire's lack of road success in the past two years. The Fire have one win on the road since the start of the 2015 season, although the season opened with a 1-1 draw at Columbus.

"Obviously they have an attacking-oriented team," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "They have very fast players, pace, control of the ball, high technical skills in their players. So it's going to be a very, very difficult game for us."

Expect the Fire to have a similar, if not identical, starting lineup to the one against Real Salt Lake last weekend. Matt Polster remains out with a knee injury, as is forward David Arshakyan (quad). Defender Zach Loyd is the only listed injury for Atlanta.

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.