Fire

Fire host Ft. Lauderdale with eye on U.S. Open Cup semifinal spot

Fire host Ft. Lauderdale with eye on U.S. Open Cup semifinal spot

The U.S. Open Cup has become the priority for the Chicago Fire this season.

Coach Veljko Paunovic called Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers a must-win and even rested players Saturday at FC Dallas to strengthen the team for this match.

“We all know how much we value this competition and it becomes a priority,” Paunovic said on Monday. “We will go with all our horses in this game against Ft. Lauderdale, who is a team that has proven that they can beat any MLS team. They did so far in Open Cup, two times, so full respect, full power against them.”

The quarterfinal will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park and will be streamed live on chicago-fire.com.

The Strikers got this far in the competition by beating the Richmond Kickers and D.C. United in penalty kicks before beating Orlando City in extra time last round. That’s three wins with none of them coming in 90 minutes.

Ft. Lauderdale went 4-3-3 in the North American Soccer League’s first half, good for sixth place out of 11 teams, and is 0-3-1 in the fall season. Indy Eleven, the NASL team the Fire squeaked by in penalties in the Fire’s first Open Cup match this season, beat the Strikers 3-0 on July 13.

Former Fire players in Maicon Santos, the Strikers' leading scorer who spent part of 2013 with the Fire, and Victor Pineda, a former Fire homegrown, play for the Strikers. Maicon Santos will be out due to suspension after picking up a red card at Orlando.

[SHOP: Grab your own Fire jersey here]

Off the field, the Strikers picked up some unwanted attention this season for paying players late on multiple occasions this season. The team’s Brazilian ownership group includes World Cup winner Ronaldo as a minority owner.

All this adds up to the Strikers not being a very imposing opponent on paper, but Paunovic insists the Fire will play a strong lineup despite being in the middle of a crowded stretch in the schedule. This match will be the Fire’s fourth in 12 days and trip to New England comes three days later.

“All our eyes are on this game and we want to prepare and win the game,” Paunovic said. “Then we will look forward of course. We know that we have New England right after, three days after, so we also know what we want to achieve in that game. Having this stretch it is important to recover well, having a plan where all the guys are important and have to be engaged. So far I think we are doing a good job with that and players understanding very well their roles.”

Paunovic indicated on Monday that Matt Lampson will start at goalkeeper. Lampson has started the previous two U.S. Open Cup matches. In addition, Joey Calistri, who missed Saturday’s loss at FC Dallas due to an ankle sprain, will not be ready to return on Wednesday.

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.