Fire

Fire look to offset USOC loss with league result vs. Union

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Fire look to offset USOC loss with league result vs. Union

With more than two-thirds of the MLS regular season gone, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.

As clubs around the league jostle for precious points, the next two months will go a long way toward determining which teams are worthy of a postseason berth. For the Chicago Fire (6-12-4, 22 points) - following a sluggish display in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup exit - a rematch against the Philadelphia Union (6-13-5, 23 points) at PPL Park on Sunday provides the Men in Red a shot at clambering out of the Eastern Conference cellar.         

“Yeah, it’s a good question,” Fire coach Frank Yallop said earlier in the week when asked about the poor run of form away from Toyota Park. “We don’t set up any differently, we try to do the same type of things that we do at home. Maybe we play a little bit deeper, but not by intention.

“Obviously most teams win their home games or they tend to be good at home, and the odd teams that do well in the league usually have a good road record also. ... For us, we’ve just got to keep plugging away and hope that tide will turn and we’ll get that win.”

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After a listless loss in Philadelphia midweek, there will be plenty at stake when the two sides take the field. Both are seeking to mount a late charge in hopes of making themselves heard in the playoff race, though the Union, bolstered by their firm semifinal outing to deny the Fire a chance to seize their fifth Open Cup title, undoubtedly carry all of the momentum. 

Results speak for themselves, though, as the Men in Red have failed to win on the road since July 2014, a period spanning 20 matches across all competitions. As it stands, 11 of the Fire's 12 remaining fixtures - barring next week's final cross-conference bout of the season with the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park - pit Yallop's men against Eastern Conference opposition, eight of which spotlight matches against sides currently sitting above the red line.  

On Sunday, the Fire will have to make do without Gilberto, who suffered a thigh contusion in his debut four days prior. After logging 58 minutes in the Cup semifinal, fellow Designated Player David Accam (hamstring) is also questionable.

Midfielder Matt Watson, who was among the list of substitutes on Wednesday, will serve out the second match of his two-game suspension. Ty Harden, previously cup-tied to the San Jose Earthquakes, joined the group and will be available as the primary backup to Eric Gehrig and Jeff Larentowicz with Adaílton nursing an adductor strain and newly acquired center back Daneil Cyrus' unveiling set for next week.

[RELATED: Fire alarmed by defeat in USOC semifinal: 'We were outplayed']

With six points separating the Fire and sixth-place Montreal Impact, two games in hand on Philadelphia, New York City FC and Orlando City SC give Yallop and the Men in Red a platform to get back in the winning column to close out a two-week spell on the road.  

“You settle for a point but you’re trying to get three in any game you play,” Yallop said. “The reality is it’s difficult to win every game away from home. If you do get a point it feels like you’ve got something out of the match. ... This is an important week and the next two games (after Sunday) are at home, so we have a good chance of getting our season back on track or it'll falter and peter out.

“The table doesn’t lie, we’re in the position we’re in because of how we’ve done this year. It is what it is and we’ve got to get on with it. I don’t tend to worry too much about the other teams. I just look at the gap that we’ve got to catch up. We do have games in hand and we do have points available to jump above teams."

Viewing information:

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6 p.m. CT

Where: PPL Park; Chester, Pa.

Broadcast: Fox Sports 1

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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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

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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.