Fire

Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card

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Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card

Through the first 15 minutes it appeared the Chicago Fire were going to be in the middle of another wide open, high-scoring match.

However, after host Orlando City and the Fire both scored early goals the Fire defense tightened up. Despite playing down a man for an hour, the Fire were able to hold on for a 1-1 draw on the road.

Cyle Larin got Orlando (0-0-2, 2 points) on the board in the fourth minute. He found some space between Fire defenders Jonathan Campbell and Johan Kappelhof, but Campbell recovered to block Larin's initial shot. However, the ball then landed right at Larin's feet and he fired home.

The Fire (0-1-1, 1 point) struggled to keep possession for much of the first half, but were able to find some chances on the counter thanks to the speed of David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike. In the 14th minute one of those chances turned into a goal. The Fire cleared the ball from the defensive zone and Accam chased the bouncing ball on the Citrus Bowl turf and burned Seb Hines to create a breakaway on goal. Accam finished for his second goal in as many games.

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The match took a turn in the 32nd minute when Michael Harrington received a red card for going into a tackle with a high foot. Orlando held nearly 70 percent of the possession in the first half, dominating even before Harrington was sent off. Once the Fire played down a man, they were forced to sit back and play on the counter the rest of the way.

Orlando finished with 65 percent of the possession, but the Fire were able to absorb the pressure. Fire coach Veljko Paunovic went with a three-man back line with rookie Jonathan Campbell making his first start alongside Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof. Brandon Vincent and Harrington played as wing backs, pushing up for wide play when they could.

[MORE: Fire-NYCFC match draws record international ratings]

Orlando did get a few good chances in the second half, but goalkeeper Matt Lampson came up with some big saves. In the 78th minute Kevin Molino hit a laser of a shot off the outside of the post. A minute later Larin was free on the left side for a shot, but Lampson was able to get a piece of it and that one also ricocheted off the post. A minute after Larin's chance, Molino got free in the middle of the Fire defense, but Lampson got off his line to snuff out the chance.

After being derided in the opening loss to NYCFC, Lampson had a solid game. He wasn't put under as much pressure in terms of distribution, but made the saves he needed to on Friday.

Friday's match also marked the debut of John Goossens. Goossens played 73 minutes before being replaced by Razvan Cocis. He had a quiet game other than a nice chipped pass to Kappelhof that nearly resulted in a Fire goal in the second half.

One point through two matches is less than ideal for the Fire, but coming up with a point on the road while playing down a man for so long is a positive. Accam was again the Fire's best player by a wide margin and will surely again play a big role when the Fire host Columbus on March 19.

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.