Fire

Fire to persevere in final stretch: 'Our leaders have not quit'

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Fire to persevere in final stretch: 'Our leaders have not quit'

The last time the Chicago Fire tasted a home defeat against the New York Red Bulls, Bob Bradley - who had helped the Men in Red capture the MLS Cup and two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles between 1998 and 2000 - headed the then-New York/New Jersey MetroStars to a 3-0 victory over his former side in front of 8,341 at Soldier Field on May 14, 2005.

Needless to say, times have changed since even the likes of Chris Armas and Jesse Marsch - current members of the Red Bulls technical staff who featured that day - made their veteran presence felt in the Fire dressing room.

Ten years later, a new wave of leadership will be called upon to guide the Fire (6-13-5, 23 points) to a positive result against the Red Bulls (11-6-6, 39 points), who visit Toyota Park Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN+).       

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“Our leaders have not quit,” head coach Frank Yallop said Monday. “They’re vocal. They’re encouraging. We haven’t quit. I feel that the performances were good in this part of the season. We’re trying our best to put it right. Plus you’ve gone a goal down in a minute [against Colorado Rapids]. We could’ve crumbled and gave up, but we didn’t. We kept going. It says a lot for the guys on the field and the guys that are the leaders in Jeff [Larentowicz], Sean [Johnson], Jon [Busch] and Razvan [Cocis].”

Already facing mounting pressure heading into the final stretch of the season, the Men in Red - with two games in hand on the Philadelphia Union, Orlando City SC and New York City FC below the red line and five points back of the Montreal Impact - are still keeping playoff hopes in their sights. Having missed out on the postseason in four of the last five years, this year's run-in could be the most arduous yet.    

A home-and-home with Orlando City still to come, Wednesday's fixture marks the first of three late-season encounters with the Red Bulls, with games against Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United and playoff hopefuls Toronto FC, New England Revolution and Montreal on the horizon as well.    

“We’re not out of the playoff hunt yet, so you’ve got to go with your strongest lineup who you think is going to win games,” Yallop added when asked whether he would consider incorporating younger players into team selection. “Mathematically, we still have a chance.” 

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For the visitors, who've parted ways with Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill - among others - to rebrand with an influx of young talent, winning five of their last six regular season matches sees them nipping at the heels of D.C. and in pole position to make a run at the Supporters' Shield. 

From front to back, Marsch has assembled a unit worthy of making a deep run into the postseason, all while aiming to instill a revamped philosophy within the club, a dogged and aggressive style of play that few MLS teams have been able to defy. Wednesday's bout with the New York club will provide the Fire a template to work with before the clubs meet again on Sept. 11 and Oct. 25.        

“They’re a little more youthful, a little more team-oriented rather than individual now,” Yallop said. “They move the ball pretty sharply, and [Bradley] Wright-Phillips is a sniper. Not much has changed. I like Lloyd Sam, he’s a good player as well. They’ve got some good players and good weapons, and they seem to stay pretty healthy, which is always a key in our league.”

NOTE: Mike Magee, who underwent an MRI on his knee on Monday, is fine and available for selection, according to a club spokesperson. That leaves Adaílton, who received an injection to help his adductor strain, the only player currently on the team's injury list.   

Viewing information:

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls

Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.

Broadcast: CSN Chicago Plus    

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.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.