Fire hoping for payback against NYCFC


Fire hoping for payback against NYCFC

It’s just the fifth match of the Chicago Fire’s season, but a familiar opponent already awaits on Sunday.

New York City FC, which beat the Fire 4-3 in the first match of 2016 in Toyota Park, now hosts the Fire at Yankee Stadium.

Since that match the Fire have given up just one goal in three matches, a feat the club hadn’t produced since Aug. 2014, and haven’t lost (one win and two draws). On the other side, NYCFC came home for three matches and went winless (two draws and one loss). The Fire haven’t given up a goal in the past five halves of soccer while NYCFC has scored just one goal in its last five halves.

Given the recent turn of fortunes, the teams now have matching 1-1-2 records. The Fire are motivated to get even with the New York foes, and NYCFC is looking for its first win at home in four tries.

“There’s the mental aspect of losing to a team so you probably have to get some revenge and have a better game against them,” midfielder Michael Stephens said. “Knowing a few of their strengths and weaknesses and having experienced it already is helpful.”

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Another storyline from the Fire perspective is that a loss or draw in Yankee Stadium would doom the franchise to matching an MLS-record 27-game winless streak on the road. The New York Red Bulls franchise set that record in 2009.

That would be harsh on Paunovic, who is heading into his second road game as Fire coach, but he has been asked about the streak on multiple occasions.

“Playing and winning on the road is more difficult in this league,” Paunovic said. “(This) is something we are aware of, but we strongly believe that the best possible way to win the games on the road is to analyze the opponent, to prepare the best we can prepare from our standpoint.”

The Fire won’t have David Accam for the third straight match and goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who has been relegated to the No. 2 role so far this season, is still out with a wrist injury that has kept him from practicing between the posts the last two weeks.

For New York City, Frank Lampard will be out. Lampard hasn’t played yet this season.

[MORE: Veljko Paunovic's coaching tendencies starting to emerge]

As always, the smaller field at Yankee Stadium, which is listed at 110 x 70 yards while Toyota Park comes in at 120 x 75 yards, changes the game. Paunovic had the practice field at Toyota Park made smaller to help the team adapt.

Following back-to-back shutouts and the first win of the season, the Fire will likely be playing with more confidence. NYCFC should be feeling pretty good as well seeing the only team they’ve beat this season opposite them.

“I think we’re starting to get that belief in ourselves that we’re a different team than last year,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We’re capable of actually going to New York this weekend and getting three points. Obviously we want to score more goals, but I think defensively we’ve been great. We just got to keep that up and take advantage of the opportunities up top.”

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.