Fire opener nears following Season Kickoff Luncheon


Fire opener nears following Season Kickoff Luncheon

It's officially a match week for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire's regular season starts Sunday against New York City FC. The 1 p.m. match will be televised on CSN Chicago and will mark the start of the Veljko Paunovic era.

On Monday, the club marked the new season in style during the annual Season Kickoff Luncheon. Players and staff from the club met with fans and members of the media and some new information about the upcoming season was revealed.

For starters, the club will be signing trialist Arturo Alvarez and second round draft pick Alex Morrell. Neither contract has been officially announced, but they were introduced as members of the team on Monday. In addition, third round pick Vincent Keller and 2015 second round pick Kingsley Bryce were waived. Once Alvarez and Morrell are signed the Fire will have 24 players under contract for the season opener.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said that another trialist who is now under contract, John Goossens, may not have his visa for the season opener. Rodriguez also added that the club is still looking for international players, some of which are under contract with other teams, and that the team "remains a work in progress."

[MORE: John Goossens signs contract with Fire]

"John Goossens has proven to be a really good find for us," Rodriguez said. "His versatility is also important to us. We think he can play any of the midfield spots. We also think he can play out on the wing for us. That’s comforting. I don’t know if he’ll have his visa in time for this weekend so we’ll adjust if that’s not the case, but we would like to add another midfielder and we still need some support up front. We need to find more goals.

"We’re satisfied with the progress that we’re making on some of the players with whom we’re negotiating currently around the globe. We hope to bring those to conclusion as soon as we can, but always with the eye to building something that can be sustainable.”

As for Sunday's lineup, Paunovic didn't give much away for who would start. When asked if Matt Lampson would be the starting goalkeeper ahead of Sean Johnson after a strong preseason for Lampson, which included starting two shutouts in the preseason, Paunovic gave an open-ended answer.

“We are working on that," Paunovic said. "We have seven days to prepare for the game.”

Perhaps it's just a coach remaining guarded about his lineup, but Johnson's answer to a similar question didn't kill any speculation either. Johnson only played in one of the three preseason games in Portland and said there has been no discussion about who would start.

"I definitely expected to play more than I did," Johnson said. "Playing 75 minutes in Portland, I would have liked to play a little more, but that’s the coach’s decision and not mine.”

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To throw another question mark into the mix, David Accam's status is still unclear. Accam didn't play in Portland initially due to illness, but now Paunovic said he is dealing with a minor muscle injury.

“He had some small muscular problems so we believe he is going to be fine soon because we are not going to push him because he is very important for our team," Paunovic said. "We don’t want him to feel under stress now when we are starting so when he is ready he will be great for us.”

To sum it up, the Fire are resembling a serialized drama right now. For as many answers as they provide, a few more questions are popping up to replace them. Sunday's match against NYCFC will answer a lot of questions.

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.