Fire

Fire play at Real Salt Lake with Open Cup semifinal on deck

Fire play at Real Salt Lake with Open Cup semifinal on deck

The situation facing Fire coach Veljko Paunovic in the next four days is potentially a tricky one.

Paunovic and the Fire face a game at Real Salt Lake on Saturday, three days before the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at New England. Saturday's game at Rio Tinto Stadium in is on CSN at 9 p.m. with coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Paunovic will have to decide how strong of a lineup to play at RSL considering what is almost certainly the biggest game of the season to date takes places on the other side of the country three days later. Paunovic didn’t have David Accam or Jonathan Campbell travel to the game at FC Dallas, which was four days before the Open Cup quarterfinal in July. It's possible similar moves to rest players happen Saturday, although Paunovic wouldn't tell reporters when asked.

Playing in altitude against RSL (9-7-7, 34 points) will give the Fire (4-10-6, 18 points) a tough test. RSL is undefeated at home this season (5-0-5), but has drawn the last four home matches.

“For the sake of the position and how well they are performing in the season so far I think for them they see this game as a must-win so it’s going to all make this game tougher for us,” Paunovic said. “We believe that just by playing like we are doing right now, keeping our identity, that mentality of playing 90 minutes even when you concede goals, is something we have to improve. We make our games tough to our opponent and that’s how we have to go to Salt Lake and play with the same identity.”

The Fire will be without Joao Meira, who suffered a hamstring strain last weekend against the New York Red Bulls, and Khaly Thiam, who was suspended by the league for a hard tackle against Dax McCarty in that game. That could make any squad rotation even tougher.

One addition could be the debut of forward Luis Solignac. On Wednesday, the Fire traded for the Argentine from Colorado and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Thursday that he expects Solignac to play Saturday. He flew directly to Salt Lake instead of meeting the team for training this week. Solignac won’t be able to play in the Open Cup game in New England because he already played for the Rapids in the cup this year.

RSL’s leading scorer, Yura Movsisyan, has missed the past two games with a hip flexor and is listed as questionable. He returned to training this week and could make his return.

“Salt Lake is a strong team, especially at home,” Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “They have their core, their backbone of the midfield in [Kyle] Beckerman and [Javier] Morales, who have been in the league and playing so well together for a very long time. We got to make sure we stay on top of that, we focus on that, but at the same time they have good individual players, [forwards Joao] Plata and [Juan] Martinez. It’s going to be a difficult game. I think we just got to go in there with a confidence.”

Chicago Fire at Real Salt Lake

When: 9 p.m. Saturday (coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

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.