Fire notes: Gilberto update; international call-ups return


Fire notes: Gilberto update; international call-ups return

Wins have come at a premium for the Men in Red this season. And after grabbing all three points against the New England Revolution on Oct. 3 and training through a bye week, interim coach Brian Bliss and the Fire are striving to make it two on the trot.

Following a weekend off, the Fire were back out on the practice field as they prepare for their final away match of the season - a trip to the nation's capital.

Barring a three-game winning streak that canceled out a three-match losing spell to start the 2015 campaign, the Men in Red have been unable to build on any of their other regular season victories since, either losing or drawing in the ensuing fixture. Bliss hopes the Fire (8-18-6, 30 points) can carry the energy gained from the result against the Revolution into Sunday's match at RFK Stadium against D.C. United (14-12-6, 48 points).    

"It's unfortunate that we had the international break after the New England win, but it is what it is," Bliss said after training Thursday. "We had that downtime, but it gave us a good opportunity to heal some guys that might've been ailing and gave us some good training time as well. Hopefully we've still got that momentum going, and it'd be nice to put a nice series [of wins] together to end the season."

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

Other notes from training:

Fire quartet returns from international duty

David Accam (Ghana), Daneil Cyrus and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), and Matt Polster (United States Under-23s) all went the full 90 minutes with their respective national teams Tuesday night. All four reported back to Chicago on Wednesday, but were held out of training on Thursday to take part in a separate, regeneration session.

"All of those guys have played minutes for us with the first team, and started a lot of these games," Bliss said. "We're counting on them. So, hopefully everybody comes back and they're feeling it, and they're ready to go on Sunday. We'll plug them in as we see fit."

Added Bliss of Accam's club performances: "He's got speed to burn, and the timing of his runs is pretty good. He's got a little bit of [Sebastian] Giovinco in him. ... He's been an asset to us, and his minutes-to-goals [ratio] is pretty fantastic. He's got a little bit of bite to him. When he feels he's been wronged, he goes after it. If he feels he's made a mistake, he goes and tries to make up for it. He's pretty durable in that respect, too, because he takes a pounding and he keeps going. Credit to him that he doesn't dive around or take extra time off."

[RELATED: Fire ink multi-year jersey partnership deal with Valspar]

Injury update

Designated Player Gilberto is still feeling the ill effects of a knock to the foot he sustained in a tussle with Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones. The Brazilian forward, who's notched three goals in his last two appearances, was kept out of training on Thursday.

"He can't get out there and do the stuff that he's capable of doing right now," Bliss said. "Hopefully, by the end of the week he's ready to go."

Guest players

- With a labral tear keeping Sean Johnson out for the remainder of the season - he is able to contribute to goalkeeping sessions but not at full tilt - and Alec Kann playing second fiddle to starter Jon Busch, Bliss welcomed in goalkeeper Austin Ejide this week.

Ejide, 31, most recently plied his trade with Hapoel Be'er Sheva in Israel but has been out-of-contract since July 1. He was also named to three FIFA World Cup squads for Nigeria: Japan and South Korea (2002), South Africa (2010), and Brazil (2014). 

- All five USL players who were invited to training last week (Romeo Filipović (Arizona United), Jamiel Hardware (Saint Louis FC), Parker Maher (Saint Louis FC), James Musa (Saint Louis FC) and Jason Plumhoff (Harrisburg City Islanders)) have rejoined their clubs. 

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Brian Dunseth will step in as the color analyst alongside play-by-play commentator Dan Kelly for Sunday’s D.C.-Chicago broadcast (1 p.m. CT; CSN).

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.