Fire pick up second win with shutout of Columbus

Fire pick up second win with shutout of Columbus

Last week Bastian Schweinsteiger was the story, but Saturday's win against the Columbus Crew was the Dax McCarty show.

McCarty assisted the game-winning goal, had some key defensive plays and helped control the midfield against a possession-oriented Columbus team in a 1-0 win against the Crew.

McCarty, who was named man of the match, slid a through ball to Nemanja Nikolic in the box in the 22nd minute. Nikolic scored his second goal of the season with a first-time low shot that got through goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

"Very, very satisfied with Dax's performance," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "I think every time and every game he is feeling more comfortable and getting in that role that we wanted and expected from him. The leader on and off the field. He is really feeling comfortable. We knew that it was going to take some time, but he's getting to that level."

Schweinsteiger played a much more subdued role than he did in his debut last week, but him and McCarty combined to win the possession battle against a Crew team which entered the match fifth in the league in that category. The Fire had 53 percent of the possession in the first half.

The Fire (2-1-2, 8 points) opened the match in a 3-4-3 formation with Jonathan Campbell, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof (back from his red card suspension) manning a three-man defense and having outside defenders Brandon Vincent and Michael Harrington push up higher the field.

Columbus (3-2-1, 10 points) made some halftime adjustments and started the second half as the aggressor. The chess match continued with Paunovic bringing on Drew Conner for Jonathan Campbell 10 minutes into the second half, which moved Vincent and Harrington into defense for a traditional four-man back line.

The Crew had a majority of the possession in the second half and finished with nearly 55 percent possession for the match, but couldn't get on the board.

"I'd say urgency is a good word to use, especially when you're defending a 1-0 lead," McCarty said of the team's defending. "I think there was a little frustration creeping in that we couldn't get the second goal."

The Fire came close to the second goal on a few occasions. A Schweinsteiger free kick just outside the box in the 76th minute forced a full extension save from Steffen. A few minutes later rookie substitute Daniel Johnson was on a breakaway and chipped the ball over Steffen, but Columbus defender Nicolai Naess was able to clear it off the line.

"I would say is a gutsy performance," McCarty said. "It certainly took a lot of heart, a lot of cojones. Certainly it was a very important three points for us because we have one more home game that we need to get another three points and then we go for a really, really tough road trip."

A week after playing a Montreal team without its two best players (Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman) and failing to pick up a win, Columbus came to Toyota Park without Federico Higuain, Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. This time the Fire took advantage and snapped the Crew's three-game winning streak.

Schweinsteiger and McCarty both said the second half wasn't as good as the first half for the Fire, but unlike last week, the Fire held on for the win.

"I hope we can control the game better so that we can enjoy playing football a little bit more," Schweinsteiger said. "At the end of the day, for us it's very important now at the moment to win points. I am happier today than last week when we played a draw. In my eyes we should have won the match. So today I am happy we won the match."

The win moved the Fire into second place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the rest of Saturday's matches around the league.

Next week the Fire host New England to close out a three-game homestand.

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.