Fire host NYCFC on Friday, seeking third consecutive win


Fire host NYCFC on Friday, seeking third consecutive win

Having gone nearly three weeks since their last competitive match, the Chicago Fire are on the verge of putting their 'mini preseason' behind them as Frank Yallop's side prepares for its first-ever clash against expansion side New York City FC (1-3-3; 6 points) Friday night at 7 p.m.

In front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at Toyota Park, the Men in Red are seeking their third consecutive victory, while Jason Kreis' contingent is working toward restoring a winning culture after going winless in their previous five matches.

Though unwelcome, the Fire have used the 20-day break perhaps as a trump card to address injury concerns with Matt Polster, Michael Stephens and Quincy Amarikwa, as well as to get Victor Perez and Jason Johnson acclimated to their new environment.

“The guys have trained very well in the three weeks we’ve had off,” Yallop said Wednesday. “We’ve put a lot of work in. I think it worked perfect, and the guys look fit and ready for this game."

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As Polster, Stephens and Amarikwa worked their way back into full training and in contention for selection on Friday night, NYCFC have been dealing with injury issues of their own.
Other than defender George John, who underwent knee surgery last July, five players did not participate in the club's 1-0 home loss to the Portland Timbers on April 19.

Among them, Designated Player signing David Villa has yet to train fully with the squad after coming off at halftime with a hamstring injury against the Philadelphia Union three days prior. Midfielder Mix Diskerud picked up an ankle injury before the Portland match, but Kreis is optimistic he will be available.

Meanwhile, Tony Taylor ruptured his ACL in the 35th minute of that match and is out for the season. Manchester City loanee Shay Facey (hip) trained fully, but flew back to England Wednesday night to deal with a personal family matter, thus rendering him unavailable for selection against the Fire. Defender Josh Williams (adductor strain) is doubtful, while Jason Hernandez (calf), who also didn't train Thursday, is ruled out.

Needless to say, injuries have unluckily dominated a sizable portion of the conversation before the two sides butt heads for the first time, yet Yallop was full of praise for Kreis' outfit despite their setbacks.

[MORE FIRE: Yallop stresses fitness during 20-day break from MLS play]

“They’ve had a year to prepare and they’ve got some good players on their books,” he said. “All of us just look at results and that’s what you get judged on, but I’ve seen them play and they’ve played well. They give up goals here and there, like every team does. We do.

“Whether their guys are injured or not, their squad is strong.”

For now, the Men in Red continue to focus on themselves, wary that any team can win at any time in MLS. Yallop, who emphasized that the Fire get on the front foot come Friday, said he doesn't expect anything different from their Eastern Conference opponent, who have yet to win on their travels.

"We know that we’ve got to be on top of our game," Yallop said. "We’ve had a big break. They’re going to come out trying to win the game, we’re going to come out and try to win at home. I see a game with two teams that aren’t going to sit back, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to it.”

The pre-game narrative will certainly elevate the stakes. With both sides sitting on six points apiece in the East, the Men in Red, following back-to-back wins, have two games in hand. NYCFC haven't won since a 2-1 home-opening win over last year's MLS Cup finalist New England Revolution at Yankee Stadium on March 15.

Check out the video above to hear what Yallop and Shaun Maloney had to say after training on Thursday.  

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.