Fire Homegrown player Collin Fernandez building toward 2016


Fire Homegrown player Collin Fernandez building toward 2016

The growing pains commonly associated with being a first-year player in MLS hit different people in different ways. From the expectations placed on high-profile Designated Players upon their arrival in the United States to the anticipation surrounding young starlets, measuring up can be a daunting task.  

For Fire Homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez and a rookie campaign that involved the Downers Grove, Ill. native juggling the responsibility of winding up his senior year of high school and attending training sessions at Toyota Park, going through the maturation process in 2015 could give rise to a more rewarding 2016.

Before the Fire open the regular season next March, Fernandez will have already turned 19 and likely experienced his second preseason. Fernandez's only first-team minutes in 2015 came in February in a scoreless draw with Norwich City, and in his MLS debut in a 3-1 loss to Columbus Crew SC five months later. He was lent to USL's Louisville City FC, where he saw action in four matches, but was frequently recalled to the Fire to help supplement numbers in practice or on the bench, where he was placed six times between late March and mid-August.

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“Collin’s done well," Fire interim coach Brian Bliss told reporters earlier this week. "Unfortunately, it’s tough for an 18-year-old kid to get onto the field, and there’s not many other MLS teams putting their young 17, 18, 19-year-olds onto the field week-in and week-out. Collin’s biggest stumbling block will be this first season, 2015, on the mental side."

A virtual ever-present in the Fire's Player Development system - he joined the Under-14 Academy at the age of 13 and has represented the club at the U-16 and U-18 levels - Fernandez has also received U.S. international call-ups since 2011 when he was selected to the roster for the U-14's trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. He then spent a semester at the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., and has been named to numerous U-18 and U-20 squads since, most recently accompanying the latter in the Four Nations Tournament in Germany.

“It’s cool to go see and play in different parts of the world," Fernandez said. "Playing in those games grants more experience, and as a young player that’s all I need right now.” 

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With the regular season drawing to a close on Oct. 25, Fernandez's admirable work ethic has clearly caught the eye of the Fire technical staff, most notably Bliss, who isn't completely shunning the idea of giving Fernandez and other youngsters a window of opportunity to impress.

Come next season, though, one year's difference could do wonders for Fernandez in the way coaches and teammates perceive him.     

"I’ve had two meetings with him already about preparing himself for next year and being a year older, and he won’t be looked upon as a rookie or an 18-year-old," Bliss said. "Even though the chronological age will say he’s 19, it’s looked upon far differently from his teammates and from a coach. He does well when he goes into the U-19s/U-20s, so we’re thinking positively about his projection and where his career is going.”

Added Fernandez: “It’s all been a learning experience. I’m trying to take as much as I can from it.” 

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.