Fire

Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson

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Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson

The soccer world is heading into an international break and the off week comes at a good time for the Chicago Fire.

A few players are nursing injuries, but coach Veljko Paunovic sounded optimistic that the injuries are minor and that the full squad could play against Philadelphia on April 2.

David Accam, who missed Saturday's 0-0 draw against Columbus, was described as day-by-day by Paunovic during his weekly conference call with media.

"He is very positive that he can make it so we believe he will be ready," Paunovic said.

The injury to John Goossens, who left at halftime with a hamstring injury, was described by Paunovic as "not that serious." Paunovic said the Dutch midfielder should be able to rejoin the rest of the team in a couple days.

Arturo Alvarez also had some fatigue and soreness, according to Paunovic, and sat out training today. The combination of these injuries and players being away on international duty, like Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster, meant there were only 14 players available in training today.

[RELATED: Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster to join U.S. Olympic team]

Paunovic addressed how Sean Johnson is handling being the No. 2 goalkeeper after making more than 150 appearances with the club since 2010.

“I can tell you that he’s handling that very good," Paunovic said. "He works hard and he is someone that always helps his teammates. How he’s handled it, we appreciate it. He’s a really, really good teammate and a good player.

"From my point of view, I understand and I know what he’s going through. I’ve been through that and I understand and I know that every player wants to play. The situation with him is the same situation."

The Fire may have no plans to trade Johnson at the moment, and Paunovic denied any possible trades when asked, but he has an above average MLS salary for a goalkeeper. In a league with a very tight salary cap, having a well-paid backup goalkeeper isn't exactly an efficient use of resources. If the Fire viewed trading Harry Shipp as something beneficial for both sides when Shipp was no longer deemed a starter, it would seem the same circumstances apply to Johnson. There are certainly teams in the league that would view Johnson as an upgrade at goalkeeper.

[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear right here]

Another potential position battle could be emerging at right back. Rodrigo Ramos got his first start on Saturday after two substitute appearances in the first two matches while Michael Harrington served his suspension for the red card at Orlando.

“We are very happy with the performance of Rodrigo," Paunovic said. "We can see that he is ready now to play and now he has to compete for the spot like everyone else.

"Sometimes he carries the ball too much and that makes him lose a lot of energy, which we have to work on. He knows that, we told him. He’s a really great kid, very talented and on the other side he has to earn it. He can play as a right back, he can play in different systems. He can play in the last system we played, a 3-5-2, he can also be very useful in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3.”

The Philadelphia match will show if Paunovic thinks Ramos earned another start or if Paunovic sticks with Harrington as his starter.

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.