Fire

Fire hit the road to take on Orlando City

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Fire hit the road to take on Orlando City

The Chicago Fire opened the 2016 season with a disappointing home loss to a 2015 MLS expansion team. Now the Fire hit the road to take on the other 2015 MLS expansion side.

After Sunday’s 4-3 loss to New York City FC, the Fire will pay Orlando City a visit at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Lions drew Real Salt Lake 2-2 in the opener, scoring twice in second half stoppage time in a game that included a red card for each team.

Orlando had over 60,000 in attendance in the Citrus Bowl and should have another big crowd again. The big crowd isn’t the only factor of playing at the Citrus Bowl.

“We are going to prepare for the turf, we are going to prepare for the weather,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We expect it to be hot there and we will do our best to prepare for those conditions.”

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Friday will be Paunovic’s first road match in charge of the Fire. The Fire went through all of 2015 without a single win on the road, although Paunovic didn’t address last year’s road failures directly when asked earlier this week.

“We see all our games as an opportunity for us to win, to perform well and to be the best we can be,” Paunovic said. “For the next game, we will have our game plan. We always want to win, don’t forget that. We will always say that.

“This time hopefully we will perform defensively better and also offensively we score the opportunities we create in order to win.”

From a personnel standpoint, Friday could mark the debut of John Goossens. The Dutch midfielder received his visa this week and returned to training on Wednesday. He played a key role in the preseason and if he is deemed fit enough to play after the long flight to his home country, Goossens could be a difference maker in the Fire midfield.

Meanwhile, Gilberto is listed as out in the injury report. He suffered an injury early on against NYCFC and was subbed out at halftime. In his absence, Paunovic may elect a different setup than the 4-2-3-1 he started out with on Sunday.

[MORE: Paunovic defends Matt Lampson after rocky opener]

As for Orlando, the Lions’ lineup has been in flux to start the season. For starters, Brazilian star Kaka is expected to be out for the second straight week. He suffered a thigh strain in training leading up to the opener and will also miss Friday’s match. In addition, midfielder Darwin Ceren will be out serving his red card suspension after being sent off against RSL. Returning for Orlando will be midfielder Cristian Higuita, who sat out the opener due to a red card in the 2015 season finale.

Friday’s match could also serve as the debut for Antonio Nocerino, who joined the team too late to play on Sunday. Nocerino, 30, last played for AC Milan and is a former Italian international.

All the movement in the lineup has made Orlando a bit unpredictable early on. Paunovic noted that the Lions used a 4-3-3 against RSL, something they hadn’t shown in the preseason.

“Playing at home, we expect them to be a more direct team than New York, but still playing the same formation as they played in the first game,” Paunovic said. “We expect to have to contrast them in the same way we tried to do against New York. We have to improve our defense against them. They have very fast guys, very strong guys, like (Cyle) Larin. Then you have (Kevin) Molino and (Brek) Shea, guys who we can say now they have experience in the league that can be very, very dangerous.”

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.