Fire

Fire players downplay importance of undefeated preseason record

Fire players downplay importance of undefeated preseason record

Despite struggles in recent years during the regular season, the Chicago Fire have had a good run in the preseason.

In Veljko Paunovic's two years in charge, the Fire have posted two undefeated preseasons, but the February success goes further back than that. In officially listed preseason matches on the Fire's website, the Fire went 7-1 in 2014, and a less impressive, but still undefeated 1-0-4 in 2015. Last season, Paunovic's first season, the Fire posted a 5-0-1 preseason mark.

The Fire failed to make the playoffs in any of those years and were dead last in Major League Soccer in each of the last two years.

This time around the Fire went a perfect 6-0, beginning with two shutouts and finishing with four more wins in which the Fire scored 16 goals. Downplaying the relevance of preseason results seems obvious, especially with the Fire's recent track record, but is there some benefit to winning as opposed to losing?

Midfielder Dax McCarty snickered at the question when asked at the Fire's season kickoff luncheon on Monday.

"I don't think it's that valuable at all actually," McCarty said. "It's nice to win. The goal in every game you play is to win games. Preseason teams are tinkering, teams are playing different formations and players and personnel. I think the general thesis of preseason should be to try to work on the things that you want to do in the season that are going to make you a successful team. For each team that's different so we definitely put value on the results that we got, you always want to win every time you step on the field, but in terms of what it means for the regular season, it doesn't mean much. We have a lot of confidence knowing that we have a good team and we have good players and the results in preseason showed that. As far as how valuable it is, I don't think it's very valuable at all. It's definitely nice to say you went through the preseason unbeaten I guess."

The purpose of the preseason is generally to get players in shape for the season, find how certain pieces on the team fit together and to begin to form the relationships on the team, both on and off the field, that will be crucial when the games matter. Results are, with good reason, viewed as secondary.

However, general manager Nelson Rodriguez said there are intangible benefits to winning in the preseason, although he admitted thinking the same last year when the team had a good preseason and then went winless in the first three matches of 2016 and struggled throughout the year.

"Of course they matter," Rodriguez said of preseason results. "They matter during the preseason, but [season opening opponent] Columbus is not afraid of us because we went 6-0-0 in the preseason. But again what the results during preseason allow to have happened is this belief in each other, is in this trust in the style of play and the proactive nature we're trying to build at the club. Results confer legitimacy, losses erode it. So in that regard I think it was helpful."

Juninho, who like McCarty is a league veteran and new addition to the Fire this offseason, leaned more towards McCarty's sentiment.

"What we got from there was the minutes and the games," Juninho said. "That's what was the main thing. When the season starts it's another game. We all know that and we have to work and focus on the season."

Paunovic talked about the team's work in the preseason and building confidence, but wouldn't talk about the results.

"We believe that the preseason is very important, but obviously as I said, when the season starts that's where you see who can handle the difficult situations and who you can count on."

When the Fire head to Columbus for the March 4 season opener both teams will have clean slates. The Fire will be hoping to turn a winning preseason into a winning start to the regular season and go against the recent trend.

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.