Fire

The Fire have clinched a playoff spot, now the fun begins

9-30_nyc-fc_matchup_mls_fire_blank.jpg

The Fire have clinched a playoff spot, now the fun begins

When Toronto FC came to Toyota Park on Aug. 19 there was a big game atmosphere that hadn’t existed in Bridgeview for years, and certainly hadn’t existed since Veljko Paunovic took over as coach in 2016.

That game had some hype behind it as a potentially huge game in the Supporters’ Shield race. By the time Toronto came to town, the Fire had fallen back, losing four of the previous five games. Toronto’s 3-1 win was a decisive blow to the Fire’s chances of catching Toronto and the Reds are now on the verge of clinching the Shield.

What was significant about that game was the tension in the air and the fact that the crowd knew it was a big game. Saturday’s game against New York City FC (live on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live) is another big game with New York holding the crucial second spot, and the first-round bye that comes with it, in the Eastern Conference.

Whether or not the players and coaches of the Fire would admit it, they were likely feeling some pressure as the team lost six of seven games in July and August and later lost at a Philadelphia team that has been out of the playoff race for weeks. After the Fire clinched a playoff spot on Wednesday with a resounding win in San Jose, the pressure should be relieved. Entering the season, most Fire fans would have been happy to take a playoff berth, meaning the minimum standard has been achieved.

That’s what Dax McCarty said after the San Jose win: “I think if you want to be a successful club in Major League Soccer, it should be the bare minimum expectation every season to make the playoffs.”

So with the bare minimum out of the way, now it gets to the good stuff. Saturday’s game against NYCFC is a truly big game, something the club hasn’t experienced many of in recent years. The Toronto game was an early taste of a big game (and it showed how much better Toronto is than the Fire). Now, this is a game between two teams already headed to the playoffs and in a race for playoff seeding.

The Fire are four points behind NYCFC with three games left. Atlanta is a point ahead of the Fire and has four games remaining. Any chance of getting a first-round bye starts with a Fire win on Saturday. If New York wins, they clinch a top three seed.

Beyond seeding, the Fire also need to show they can beat Eastern Conference playoff teams. With the six playoff spots in the Eastern Conference appearing all wrapped up (barring a collapse by the New York Red Bulls), the Fire have a 2-6-2 record against those teams and an 0-5-1 mark on the road.

David Accam was rested for this game, not making the trip to San Jose, and Bastian Schweinsteiger could return. The German has missed the last four games, but was not listed on the injury report. Rushing back Schweinsteiger without training time in the past couple weeks could have long-term damage, but could also give the team a much-needed boost with one of the best teams in the league going to Toyota Park.

Let’s see what the Fire can do in a big game before the truly big games start in late October.

Chicago Fire vs. New York City FC

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (15-10-6, 51 points), NYCFC (16-8-7, 55 points)

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

city-trophy-epl.jpg
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

katai.jpg
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.