Fire look to avoid four-match losing skid with result vs. D.C.


Fire look to avoid four-match losing skid with result vs. D.C.

Before Week 16 of the MLS regular season had reached its last act, victories for New York City FC and the Montreal Impact Saturday night ensured the Chicago Fire's drop to last place in the Eastern Conference to finish the weekend with the least amount of points (14) in the league.

It was an unsavory pill to swallow for Frank Yallop, who, since rejoicing in the 3-0 shutout of Montreal at the end of May, has overseen a three-match losing skid against conference opponents mar his side in June.

Beginning with a 3-1 defeat at D.C. United on June 3, the Men in Red were delivered a crushing blow three days later by Kaká and Orlando City SC, who were gift wrapped three points in a late turnaround at Toyota Park. The latest league outing - a 2-0 loss to second-place New England Revolution on June 13 - further revealed the Fire's defensive fragility - surrendering eight goals in that span - and inability to resist sustained bouts of pressure despite relatively sturdy first half showings.

After a shaky win over Louisville City FC in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup last week, competitive training sessions since and a favorable return to Toyota Park on Wednesday leads Yallop to believe a win against the Eastern Conference leaders may be all that is needed to spark his group to life.

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"Practice has been pretty sharp for the last few days after our win in the Cup where, again, we all saw the game," Yallop said Monday. "We didn't play particularly well and looked a bit disjointed, but we got through and won. It's something that breeds confidence. As a lot of MLS teams will tell you, one result or one thing that changes and all of a sudden you start to feel good about yourself and get on a run.

"We've had some tough games in the last three in MLS. We're at home; we're hoping we can jump on the front foot, get three points and put us back into the playoff picture."

For the Black and Red, a four-game stretch away from the confines of RFK Stadium begins, while the Men in Red hope to avoid losing four matches in a row for the fourth time (twice in 2002, once in 2007) in their history. Since a 1-0 victory on August 29, 2009, D.C. have also only emerged with four points from Bridgeview in six games.

[RELATED: Maloney out vs. D.C.; Jones, Accam train separately]

The visitors enter the match on the back of a 2-1 comeback win over the Revolution, who granted Ben Olsen's side a generous, seven-point cushion atop the standings despite holding a 1-0 halftime advantage. It's a hard lesson that, three weeks on from disintegrating in similar fashion, still resonates with Yallop as he prepares for the return fixture.  

"D.C. are a decent side, they just beat New England," Yallop added. "They did the same as us: scored in the first half, and then scored two goals in the second half. It happens to the best teams against someone like D.C.       

"You learn from all parts of games. We lost against Salt Lake at home as well, and that wasn't a good game. The performance was okay; we created a ton of chances, but we gave the game away.

"We've just got to learn from it. We're banged up a little bit right now, but I'm excited about the prospects and how we're going to play in our fight for Wednesday night, because it's an important game for us." 

[MORE FIRE: Jon Busch, Frank Yallop react to USOC Round of 16 draw]

D.C., who've amassed an astounding 5-4-1 record when conceding the first goal, have deftly become the preeminent escape gurus of MLS, while the corresponding scenario - in contrast - has been a particular soft underbelly for the Fire, who've compiled a 0-6-1 record when conceding first.

Wednesday's match, moreover, will be no picnic for the Men in Red. Yallop & Co. will be without the services of Shaun Maloney - out two to three weeks with a bulging disc in his lower back - David Accam (hamstring) and Matt Polster (yellow card accumulation). Mike Magee, who pulled up with a niggle in his hamstring before the New England match, has put himself in contention to be named to the 18 against D.C. and could provide a useful spark off the bench as he continues his resurgence from hip and knee surgeries.

Be sure to tune in to CSN+ for Pregame Live at 7 p.m. with Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan before kickoff at 7:30.       

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.